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 OECD and EU countries, the equivalent of 3.3 earths would be needed to keep up with consumption levels. 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.
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 a press release on Tuesday.
"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," Olsson added.
Additional findings include:
- Over 20 million children in this group of countries have elevated levels of lead in their blood. Lead is one of the most dangerous environmental toxic substances.
- Finland, Iceland and Norway rank in the top third for providing a healthy environment for their children yet rank in the bottom third for the world at large, with high rates of emissions, e-waste and consumption.
- In Iceland, Latvia, Portugal and the United Kingdom 1 in 5 children is exposed to damp and mould at home; while in Cyprus, Hungary and Turkey more than 1 in 4 children is exposed.
- Many children are breathing toxic air both outside and inside their homes. Mexico has among the highest number of years of healthy life lost due to air pollution at 3.7 years per thousand children, while Finland and Japan have the lowest at 0.2 years.
- In Belgium, Czech Republic, Israel, the Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland more than 1 in 12 children are exposed to high pesticide pollution. Pesticide pollution has been linked with cancer, including childhood leukaemia and can harm children’s nervous, cardiovascular, digestive, reproductive, endocrine, blood and immune systems.