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24 May 2022

As Prime Minister Anthony Albanese today attends the Quad Leaders’ Summit, a new report from UNICEF shows that Australia ranks 30 out of 39 economically advanced countries on the impact of environmental conditions on children's wellbeing.

High on the agenda for the new Prime Minister’s first meeting with foreign leaders - including US President Joe Biden - is how Australia and the region plan to respond to climate change.

While Australia ranks positively in the top 10 of countries featured in the report for issues such as pollution and child-friendly environments, as a nation we fare badly overall because of our unsustainable consumption of resources, the amount of electronic waste generated each year and our carbon emissions.

The UNICEF Innocenti Report Card is a series of reports designed to monitor and compare the performance of economically advanced countries in securing the rights of their children – with this latest report, titled ‘Places and Spaces: Environments and children’s well-being’ and focussing on environmental impacts.

“This report shows that Australians’ consumption of resources is not sustainable. Our consumption rates are so high that if everyone in the world lived like the average person in Australia, we would need 4.6 planet earths to sustain these levels of resource consumption,” said Katie Maskiell, Head of Child Rights Policy and Advocacy at UNICEF Australia.

Spain, then Ireland, topped the overall league table, while Costa Rica and Romania were at the bottom of the table.

The report highlights that environmental concerns are front of mind for young Australians. Australian data from PISA in 2018 shows that young Australians are among the highest in the world for knowing about climate change, with nearly 83% of 15-year-old students knowing about climate change (the highest is 88% in Korea).

“The high rate of eco-anxiety among young people is also spotlighted in this report, comparing the USA, Portugal, France, the UK, Finland and Australia, where 82% of young people here are either ‘extremely’, ‘very’, or ‘moderately’ worried about climate change. 43% were even hesitant about becoming parents - the highest percentage of the six countries compared,” said Ms Maskiell.

UNICEF Australia’s Deputy Director Libby Hodgson says that this level of knowledge of climate change and eco-anxiety shows Australia’s youth want to be heard on this topic

“Young people are engaged and active in environment issues and this means it’s vital to include young people in planning and decision making in a range of policy areas including climate change,” said Ms Hodgson.

“UNIEF Australia is calling for government to create a National Youth Advisory Council to give young people a direct link to government and to help shape government thinking when it comes to issues affecting young people.

“With climate change affecting the frequency and severity of natural disasters, UNICEF Australia also calls for government to develop child-centric disaster frameworks, and fund mental health support to help recovery from such emergencies.”

Globally, while Spain, Ireland and Portugal feature at the top of the league table overall, all OECD and EU countries are failing to provide healthy environments for all children across all indicators. Some of the wealthiest countries, including Australia, Belgium, Canada and the United States, have a severe and widespread impact on global environments – based on CO2 emissions, e-waste and overall consumptions of resources per capita – and also rank low overall on creating a healthy environment for children within their borders.

In contrast, the least wealthy OECD and EU countries in Latin America and Europe have a much lower impact on the wider world.

“Not only are the majority of rich countries failing to provide healthy environments for children within their borders, they are also contributing to the destruction of children’s environments in other parts of the world,” said Gunilla Olsson, Director of UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti. “In some cases we are seeing countries providing relatively healthy environments for children at home while being among the top contributors to pollutants that are destroying children’s environments abroad.”

“We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to create better places and spaces for children to thrive,” said Olsson. “Mounting waste, harmful pollutants and exhausted natural resources are taking a toll on our children’s physical and mental health and threatening our planet’s sustainability. We must pursue policies and practices that safeguard the natural environment upon which children and young people depend the most.”