Climate change means more droughts, floods, heatwaves and other severe weather conditions. These events can cause death and devastation, and can also contribute to the increased spread of major killers of children, such as malnutrition, malaria and diarrhoea. This can create a vicious circle: A child deprived of adequate water and sanitation before a crisis will be more affected by a flood, drought, or severe storm, less likely to recover quickly, and at even greater risk when faced with a subsequent crisis.
More than half a billion children live in areas with extremely high flood occurrence and 160 million in high drought severity zones, leaving them highly exposed to the impacts of climate change, UNICEF said in a report.
Of the 530 million children in the flood-prone zones, some 300 million live in countries where more than half the population lives in poverty – on less than $3.10 a day. Of those living in high drought severity areas, 50 million are in countries where more than half the population lives in poverty.
The vast majority of the children living in areas at extremely high risk of floods are in Asia, and the majority of those in areas at risk of drought are in Africa.
"The sheer numbers underline the urgency of acting now," said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. "Today's children are the least responsible for climate change, but they, and their children, are the ones who will live with its consequences. And, as is so often the case, disadvantaged communities face the gravest threat." He then added “We owe it to our children – and to the planet – to make the right decisions at COP21."
The World Socialist Movement with a heavy heart predicts that he and many others will be disappointed by the outcome of the Paris climate change talks. The tens of thousands who turned out for climate change marches as part of a weekend of action across the globe to demand results from next week's historic Paris summit, we fear, will also find their hopes dashed. Whatever happens next is somewhat speculative, because it depends on incalculable factors in the Earth’s system – and in the human character. Our ultimate survival will be predicated entirely on our behaviour – not only on how well we adapt to unavoidable change, but also how quickly we apply the brakes to the environmental destruction taking place. Despite fears that a rise in global temperatures of over two degrees Celsius could lead to catastrophic climate change, governments around the world continue to follow a ‘business as usual’ approach, pouring millions into dirty industries and unsustainable ventures that are heating the planet. Temperatures, which are rising as a result of climate change, are expected to cause savage reductions in productivity in vast areas of the world’s most fertile lands. During the 2003 European heatwave crop yields fell by 20 to 25 per cent in France and this is a pattern likely to be repeated on a much wider scale in the future. Climate change could decrease maize yields by as much as 18 per cent by 2050-making it even more difficult to feed the world if farmers cannot adopt agricultural technologies that could help boost food production in their regions. The socialists task is to feed the world and protect the planet. Karl Marx was scathing of the capitalist economic notion that the air, rivers, seas and soil can be treated as a "free gift of nature" to business. "In London," Marx wrote "they can find no better use for the excretion of four and a half million human beings than to contaminate the Thames with it at heavy expense"
Saving the planet is inextricably linked to transforming our society. Exploitation, war, hunger and poverty are not problems that can be solved by the market system. Rather, they are inescapable outcomes of the system itself. This is because capitalism is dominated by corporations devoted to profit above all else. Capitalism is an economic system profoundly at odds with a sustainable planet. The exploitation of nature is as fundamental to the profit system as the exploitation of working people. The market system is incapable of preserving the environment for future generations because it cannot take into account the long-term requirements of people and planet. The competition between individual enterprises and industries to make a profitable return on their investment tends to exclude rational and sustainable planning. Because capitalism promotes the accumulation of capital on a never-ending and always expanding scale it cannot be sustainable. Capitalist farming is unsustainable because it inevitably starves the soil of nutrients. It is nothing less than "an art, not only of robbing the labourer, but of robbing the soil" as Marx also pointed out. Engels put it: “The present poisoning of the air, water and land can only be put an end to by the fusion of town and country” under “one single vast plan.” Despite its potential cost to society in terms of increased labour time, he viewed this fusion as “no more and no less utopian than the abolition of the antithesis between capitalist and wage-workers.”
Engels warned, "Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first." Engels added: "At every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside of nature." On the other hand, he went on to say "we have the advantage of all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly."
That is, we can organise society in harmony with nature. This is impossible unless the profit motive is removed from determining production in human society and a system of participatory democracy and rational planning is built in its stead. Engels argued that only the working people organised as "associated producers" can "govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way". This "requires something more than mere knowledge. It requires a complete revolution in our hitherto existing mode of production, and simultaneously a revolution in our whole contemporary social order."