STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Climate change will spur cascading risks to children in the coming decades as a warming planet stunts learning, threatens physical health and upends housing security, a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report found.
The agency’s 108-page peer-reviewed report, “Climate Change and Children’s Health and Well-Being in the United States,” analyzed a range of futures American children may have to face by the end of the century.
It is the latest research to analyze how climate change will fundamentally alter everyday life and create profound, tangible impacts for people under the most severe warming scenarios.
“Understanding health risks to children is critical for developing effective and equitable strategies that will protect our current and future generations,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan in a release. “Today’s report will help further efforts being taken by the Biden Administration across the Federal government to address the climate crisis and advance environmental justice.”
EPA researchers assessed the effect 2 degrees Celsius and 4 degrees Celsius of warming (equivalent to 3.6 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to a baseline period between 1986 and 2005 on five primary factors — learning, air quality, pollen, flooding and disease.
The futures outlined under those two possibilities are only possible under paths where human greenhouse gas emissions are higher than current goals. Climate models predict those thresholds could be reached by the years 2056 and 2097.
Climate change is expected to exacerbate existing inequities in children’s health by widening gaps in institutional, healthcare, historical and social institutions, researchers said. The report is meant to serve as a resource to President Joe Biden’s administration to confront environmental justice and climate issues.
“Children are experiencing the impacts of climate change from negative health outcomes impacting their physical and mental health,” said Children’s Environmental Health Network Executive Director Nsedu Obot Witherspoon.
Education is slated to be heavily influenced by the planet’s warming. Temperature increases of 2 degrees and 4 degrees Celsius is associated with, on average, 4% and 7% reduction in academic achievement, respectively, relative to normal annual learning gains.
Each group of graduating students, as a result, is expected to lose $6.9 billion in future income at 2 degrees of warming and $13.4 billion at 4 degrees of warming. While installing air conditioning in schools is less costly, the authors wrote, it only partially mitigates warming effects and is less likely to be in schools primarily attended by minority students.
Air quality is worsened as temperature increases — interacting with noxious compounds that cause lung issues. The report found that new asthma diagnoses associated with ozone and particulate matter are expected to increase by 34,500 under 2 degrees Celsius of warming and 89,600 if 4 degrees of warming is reached, representing rises of 4% and 11%, respectively.
Climate change will subsequently cause more school absences and negatively affect outcomes for vulnerable students. Even more serious dangers, including premature deaths, are likely to increase among newborns.
Exposures to oak, birch and grass pollen are predicted to trigger nearly 6,000 more asthma-related emergency department in children annually if temperatures tick-up by 2 degrees Celsius and escalate to nearly double that total if warming is doubled to 4 degrees Celsius. Researchers said children in minority groups and those who are uninsured are more likely to experience those issues.
Fetuses exposed to wildfires increasingly worsened in severity and length by climate change face significant dangers posed by smoke and dangerous air pollutants, found the report. There is a potential, scientists said, that the country sees a dramatic increase in preterm birth as wildfire activity proliferates.
Sea level rise is a growing danger for coastal cities, and both inland and ocean-based flooding is responsible nearly 100 deaths in people 19 and younger between 2017 and 2021 — 16% of all flood-related drownings.
The report found around 185,000 children are estimated to experience complete home loss if no adaptation actions are taken alongside 50 cm (about 19 inches) of global sea level rise. That figure explodes to over 1 million if sea level rise climbs to a catastrophic 100 cm.
East Coast states threatened by tick-borne diseases are projected to see an acceleration of new cases in the coming years. EPA researchers found an additional 2,600 cases of Lyme disease are likely annually if temperatures rise globally by 2 degrees Celsius, but that total multiplies nearly ten-fold to 23,400 new yearly cases under 4 degrees of warming.
West Nile virus, a persistent problem in New York City, is also likely to undergo changes, magnifying the number of cases with severe outcomes and greater infection numbers.
“EPA’s new report offers a clear, compelling overview of how climate change impacts our children’s health,” said Elizabeth Bechard, senior policy analyst for Moms Clean Air Force, a nonprofit. “Its findings underscore the necessity of considering children’s well-being in every climate policy — and the moral urgency of taking effective action to stop climate pollution on behalf of younger and future generations.”
The latest research echoes scientific projections that expect climate change to provoke dangers for younger people at risk to extreme weather events, a phenomenon analyzed by the Advance/SILive.com in a six-part series, Staten Island 2100.
United Nations experts said people younger than 10 years old in the year 2020 are projected to see a “nearly fourfold increase in extreme events under 1.5C of global warming, and a fivefold increase under 3C warming.”
“The new report is painful to read, but necessary,” said Bechard. “It offers an important roadmap for policymakers, parents, teachers, health care providers, and childcare workers by highlighting both the challenges we face and potential solutions. For all who care about children’s well-being, EPA’s new report is a call to action — a call we must answer for our children’s sake.”