The annual death rate of children under five years old in Africa could double to about 38,000 by 2049 compared with the decade 2005-2014, without cuts to rising carbon emissions, a study published in Environmental Research Letters, estimates.
It predicts that keeping temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius through to 2050 as targeted by the Paris Agreement on climate change could prevent about 6,000 heat-related child deaths in Africa.
Researchers analysed under-five population data from WorldPop and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network, and national data on death rates of children under five from UNICEF for the years 1995-2020. Using different climate change scenarios, they estimated the number of child deaths through to 2050.
Heat-related child mortality in Africa rose to 11,000 deaths annually between 1995 and 2004, of which 5,000 were linked to the negative impacts of climate change, the study showed. In the 2011-2020-decade, heat-related deaths swelled from 8,000 to 19,000 per year, the study revealed.
The researchers say the increase may have undermined gains made in other areas of child health and dented global development progress. The UN's Sustainable Development Goals seek to end preventable deaths of children under five and reduce under-five mortality to "at least as low as 25 deaths per 1,000 live births" by 2030.
"Our results suggest that if climate change is not kept to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, rising temperatures would make meeting the SDG target increasingly difficult," the study says.
John Marsham, a co-author of the study and professor of atmospheric science at Leeds University in northern England, explains, "Our results highlight the urgent need for health policy to focus on heat-related child mortality, as our results show it is a serious present-day issue, which will only become more pressing as the climate warms."
Bernard Onyango, director of population, environment and development for the BUILD project at the African Institute for Development Policy in Kenya, says that the evidence from this research "brings to the fore the health impacts of climate change". Without action to slow the rise in global temperature as a result of climate change, thousands of African children's lives will be lost annually from heat-related deaths.