BANK INFORMATION CENTER: Why and how should Multilateral Development Banks prioritize children in its climate and environment work?

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October 3rd, 2023

Last update: October 4th, 2023


Why Should MDBs Prioritize Children?

Climate change is most likely to affect “poor and vulnerable people- such as children” for whom the climate crisis exacerbates existing inequalities. The climate crisis and its related hazards, shocks, and stresses are already having devastating impacts on the well-being of children globally. According to UNICEF, over 99 percent of children are exposed to at least one climate and environmental hazard, shock, or stressor. Therefore, the climate crisis is a child rights crisis that increases their susceptibility to harm and exploitation, for example by:

  1. Intensifying violence against children (VAC), including child sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment (SEA/H). Poverty, inequality, food insecurity, and displacement are factors that can increase violence, abuse, and exploitation. There is consensus amongst the international community (see IUCN,  UN Women, and OHCHR) that climate change increases the frequency and severity of shocks, hazards, and stressors that exacerbate these factors. This can lead to greater threats of VAC, gender-based violence (GBV), trafficking, and child SEA/H as families search for alternate sources of income. For example, when families are displaced due to a climate-induced event, rates of sexual violence, domestic and family violence, and trafficking and exploitation increase in temporary housing or refugee camps because of tension and overcrowded living conditions. 
  2. Leading to higher rates of child marriage. Apart from gender inequality and social norms, poverty and the loss of assets and income are key drivers of child marriage. Research from global organizations such as the UNFPA concludes that climate change and environmental crises can lead to a loss of resources and income that can result in higher child marriage rates. In this context, early marriage is perceived as a “coping strategy,” by, for example, leaving one less mouth to feed or by enabling the family to “exchange” a girl for cattle or other goods. 
  3. Increasing the risks of child labor. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), extreme weather events, migration or displacement, and changes in agricultural productivity due to climate change are heightening the risks of child labor; climate change is displacing people and leading to higher rates of poverty. For instance, a recent ILO report indicates that families experiencing a loss of income or livelihood due to crop damage, livestock deaths, and other changes in agricultural productivity are likely to feel “forced to send their children to work as a survival strategy in the face of increased socio-economic vulnerability and food insecurity.”
  4. Negatively impacting children's access to education and academic performance.  Extreme weather events can damage schools beyond repair and prevent children from continuing with their education. If this is coupled with a loss of income, children may be forced into the labor market due to a need to help financially support the family. In addition, according to the World Bank, an increase in hot days leads to poorer performance in school, as higher temperatures have an adverse effect on memory and cognitive performance
  5. Threatening children’s lives and adversely affecting their health and wellbeing. The impact of environmental hazards, such as air and water pollution and exposure to harmful substances (i.e. pesticides), is particularly severe for children, causing 1.7 million deaths of children under the age of 5 every year. Additionally, climate change will affect the spread of diseases that predominantly kill children (like dengue, malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea). Moreover, studies have shown an increasing number of children have reported feeling various forms of anxiety due to climate change (also known as eco-anxiety), and “exposure to chronic stress in childhood has a long-lasting impact.”

How Should MDBs Prioritize Children?

While the connection between environmental impacts, climate change, and different types of VAC might not be immediately apparent, they are undeniably intertwined. Given the links between these issues, it is important to address them holistically. Moving forward, BIC recommends that MDBs:

  1. Consider children as active stakeholders and include them in decision-making processes. MDBs should seek meaningful consultation with children to assess and understand the environmental impacts of its projects on children and how their action plans and strategies to address climate change impact children. By sharing their views and concerns, children can help identify and develop solutions to fight climate change and promote a sustainable environment. 
  2. Consider the unique risks and needs of children throughout the MDB's projects portfolio. MDBs should develop guidance and equip staff to take more assertive action to uphold child rights and support the borrower in assessing and managing the environmental impacts of projects on children. During project design and implementation, they should identify, manage, and mitigate adverse environmental impacts of its projects on children. 
  3. Mainstream a child rights perspective throughout their work on climate change. MDBs should explain how they will consider and include the differentiated needs of children in their climate work, particularly in their next Climate Change Action Plans. MDBs should view protecting and upholding child rights in the context of climate change as a cross-cutting issue rather than separate or competing. 
  4. Mobilize climate finance for children. At COP27, MDBs committed to providing more adaptation finance, with a focus on marginalized groups. They should use this commitment as a starting point to boost adaptation finance for children. Investing in children is not only a moral imperative and the right thing to do, but it is also cost-effective and can offset the losses while helping with the creation of a resilient community. 

Why does the Bank Information Center exist?

The policies and programs of multilateral development banks (MDBs) can exacerbate climate change, undermine human rights, and further marginalize people who have historically faced discrimination. We stand with those whose health, livelihoods, homes, sacred sites, and support systems are threatened by the development process, and work to reform the development finance system to prevent harm  to people and the planet.

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