In its newly released 2011 State of the World's Children report, UNICEF positions climate change as the single greatest threat to youth worldwide, and in another report, the international body says that climate-related disasters threaten the success of the Millennium Development Goals that are core of the international humanitarian agenda.
It's the non-controversial group's first serious foray into climate politics. Children will be most affected by climate change, and the poor children for whom UNICEF primarily advocates are especially vulnerable to extreme weather events like the Biblical-scale floods in Pakistan in 2010.
The reports take note that young people absolutely believe climate change is real and important, but UNICEF primarily lobbies for a "child-centred" approach to adapting to climate change (in an eponymously titled report) — in other words, it calls for us to brace ourselves strategically against the punishment Mother Nature is fixing to dish out.
The rationale has a more optimistic and a more pessimistic version. Optimistically, it appeals to our better nature to spare those who aren't at fault and who "are at greater risk of injury and suffer disproportionately from disease as water, sanitation and food security are threatened." (The picture of a boy sleeping amid the Pakistani flood waters is heavy emotional stuff.)
Reading between the lines, however, the report is basically asking us to put children first into the limited lifeboats we will have to confront climate change because it's the best use of our economic resources.
Indeed, it comes close to saying that bailing the children out is our best hope for survival as a species:
Children are one of the largest groups at risk from climate change. Therefore, measures that specifically target this group have the potential to reduce the impacts of climate change across a large proportion of the population, and may realise economies of scale. Importantly, child led measures develop skills across a large segment of the population and over a longer time period.
In the U.S., our debate is still deadlocked on whether or not we should reduce emissions — but it's realistically all but too late for prevention. Quietly, even controversy-averse groups like UNICEF are starting to force the choice among harsh cures.