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Innocenti Report Card 17

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Over-consumption in the world’s richest countries is destroying children’s environments globally, new report says.

The world’s richest countries, including New Zealand, are providing healthier environments for children within their borders, yet are disproportionately contributing to the destruction of the global environment, putting the present and future of all children globally at risk.

– The majority of wealthy countries are creating unhealthy, dangerous and noxious conditions for children across the world, according to the latest Report Card published today by UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti.

Innocenti Report Card 17: Places and Spaces compares how 39 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and European Union (EU) fare in providing healthy environments for children. The report features indicators such as exposure to harmful pollutants including toxic air, pesticides, damp and lead; access to light, green spaces and safe roads; and countries’ contributions to the climate crisis, consumption of resources, and the dumping of e-waste.

The report states that if everybody in the world consumed resources at the rate people do in New Zealand, at least 2.7 earths would be needed to keep up with consumption. However, if everyone were to consume resources at the rate at which people in Canada, Luxembourg and the United States do, at least five earths would be needed.

“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.”

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. New Zealand ranks 15 overall in the Report Card, which is mid-range for the countries included in the report.

UNICEF Aotearoa New Zealand CEO, Michelle Sharp, said,”Every child deserves to grow up in a safe and sustainable environment, no matter where they live. The report findings show that in some areas, New Zealand is providing a healthy environment for its children, such as the many urban green spaces for children to play and clean air to breathe. However, other challenges remain for children’s wellbeing, including road safety and exposure to hazardous substances.”

Key findings in the report for New Zealand include:

  • The New Zealand ranking is mid-range compared to the other countries in the Report Card, although challenges remain for children in New Zealand in relation to ensuring road safety and minimising exposure to harmful substances.
  • Lead is one of the most dangerous environmental toxic substances. New Zealand scores poorly on lead poisoning as an estimated 3.8% of children in Aotearoa have levels of lead in the blood of over 5 μg/decilitre.
  • New Zealand performs well on urban green spaces, with time outdoors providing mental and physical health benefits. 
  • Transport links the home, the school and other public and private places in the lives of children. New Zealand has a high rate of traffic accidents for children compared to the other ranked countries.
  • Although New Zealand is doing well on generating renewable energy and environmental protection compared to other countries, our current consumption rate is not sustainable. There is 19.2kg of e-waste generated per capita and if everyone in the world lived in a similar way, we would need 2.7 times the resources of Earth.

UNICEF is calling for the following steps to protect and improve children’s environments:

  • Governments at the national, regional and local level need to lead on improvements to children’s environments today, by reducing waste, air and water pollution, and by ensuring high-quality housing and neighbourhoods.
  • Improve environments for the most vulnerable children. Children in poor families tend to face greater exposure to environmental harm than do children in richer families. This entrenches and amplifies existing disadvantages and inequities.
  • Ensure that environmental policies are child sensitive. Governments and policymakers should make sure that the needs of children are built into decision making. Adult decision makers at all levels, from parents to politicians, must listen to their perspectives and take them into account when designing policies that will disproportionately affect future generations.
  • Involve children, the main stakeholders of the future: Children will face today’s environmental problems for the longest time; but they are also the least able to influence the course of events.
  • Governments and businesses should take effective action now to honour the commitments they have made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Adaptation to climate change should also be at the forefront of action for both governments and the global community, and across various sectors from education to infrastructure.

“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.”

About the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti

The Office of Research – Innocenti is UNICEF’s dedicated research centre. It undertakes research on emerging or current issues in order to inform the strategic directions, policies and programmes of UNICEF and its partners, shape global debates on child rights and development, and inform the global research and policy agenda for all children, and particularly for the most vulnerable. Please visit:


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