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Child Exposure to Climate Change: A Regional Index of Vulnerability for Better-Targeted Policies

Molina, Oswaldo and Saldarriaga, Victor (2018): Child Exposure to Climate Change: A Regional Index of Vulnerability for Better-Targeted Policies.

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A growing body of evidence suggests that changes in global temperature may have drastic and long-lasting impacts on human health. Even more, these consequences may vary widely across different geographic areas. We explore the regional differences in the effects of exposure to high temperature variability – an important consequence of climate change – on a particularly vulnerable demographic group: infants. We use the case of Peru, a large and geographically diverse developing country, as a setting to showcase the potential scale of these differences. We bring together monthly, high resolution data on air temperatures with measures of physical health for children born between 1985 and 2000. We find that exposure to temperatures above the historical local mean during pregnancy negatively affects health at birth. Even more salient, the negative effects persist over time, impairing the physical growth of children. We then combine our results with forecasted temperatures to construct a regional index for child vulnerability to future temperature variability. This indicator shows that country-level measures of the potential impact of climate change may hide important heterogeneities across geography. In fact, we predict that while most regions will face a reduction of up to 0.1 standard deviations in our aggregate measure of child health by 2030, this impact could be up to three times as large in the most affected areas. Our methodology can be easily replicated in other countries to identify the most vulnerable populations. This information could improve the geographical allocation of resources and contribute to the design of more effective strategies aimed at preventing or mitigating the consequences of climate change.

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