Under continued global warming, extreme events such as heat waves will continue to rise in frequency, intensity, duration, and spatial extent over the next decades (1–4). Younger generations are therefore expected to face more such events across their lifetimes compared with older generations. This raises important issues of solidarity and fairness across generations (5, 6) that have fueled a surge of climate protests led by young people in recent years and that underpin issues of intergenerational equity raised in recent climate litigation. However, the standard scientific paradigm is to assess climate change in discrete time windows or at discrete levels of warming (7), a “period” approach that inhibits quantification of how much more extreme events a particular generation will experience over its lifetime compared with another. By developing a “cohort” perspective to quantify changes in lifetime exposure to climate extremes and compare across generations (see the first figure), we estimate that children born in 2020 will experience a two- to sevenfold increase in extreme events, particularly heat waves, compared with people born in 1960, under current climate policy pledges. Our results highlight a severe threat to the safety of young generations and call for drastic emission reductions to safeguard their future.
The study received extensive media coverage by more than 180 publications.