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Government Inaction on Climate Change Linked to Profound Psychological Distress in Young People - New Study Shows

** Largest scientific study of its kind finds climate anxiety affects the daily life and functioning of nearly half of children and young people surveyed globally, with almost two-thirds saying governments are not doing enough to protect them **

Nearly half of global youth surveyed (45%) say climate anxiety and distress is affecting their daily lives and functioning -- according to the largest scientific study into climate anxiety in children and young people, which is being published in The Lancet Planetary Health.

The inaugural study, based on surveys with 10,000 children and young people (16-25) across 10 countries, found 75% of young respondents believe ‘the future is frightening’ -- jumping to 81% of youth surveyed in Portugal and 92% in the Philippines. It found, for the first time, that climate distress and anxiety is significantly related to perceived government inaction and associated feelings of betrayal. 58% of children and young people surveyed said governments were “betraying me and/or future generations,” while 64% said their governments are not doing enough to avoid a climate catastrophe.

The study found widespread psychological distress among children and young people globally and warns “such high levels of distress, functional impact and feelings of betrayal will negatively affect the mental health of children and young people.” Experts warn that because continued government inaction on climate change is psychologically damaging, it potentially amounts to a violation of international human rights law.

Caroline Hickman, from the University of Bath, Climate Psychology Alliance and co-lead author on the study, said:  “This study paints a horrific picture of widespread climate anxiety in our children and young people. It suggests for the first time that high levels of psychological distress in youth is linked to government inaction. Our children’s anxiety is a completely rational reaction given the inadequate responses to climate change they are seeing from governments. What more do governments need to hear to take action?”

Dr Liz Marks, from the University of Bath and co-lead author on the study, said:  “It’s shocking to hear how so many young people from around the world feel betrayed by those who are supposed to protect them. Now is the time to face the truth, listen to young people, and take urgent action against climate change.”

Greta Thunberg said: “Young people all over the world are well aware that the people in power are failing us. Some people will use this as another desperate excuse not to talk about the climate - as if that was the real problem. In my experience, what’s making young people feel the worst is the opposite - namely the fact that we are ignoring the climate crisis and not talking about it.”

François Hollande, former French President and one of the architects of the Paris Agreement, said:  “Six years after the conclusion of the Paris Agreement, we must open our eyes wide to the violence of global warming. On its impact on our planet, but also on the mental health of our youth, as this alarming study shows. It is urgent to act, and to do everything to bequeath to future generations a possible future.”

Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UN Environment Programme, said:  “As this research makes clear, the climate crisis is taking a huge toll on the mental health of children. It is absolutely critical that we take on board the growing body of evidence on the impacts of the climate crisis on human health. We have no choice but to rapidly decarbonize our economies and societies. It is the only way we can secure the future for our children.”

Additional findings from the study include:
  • 59% of children and young people surveyed were very or extremely worried about climate change;
  • More than half of respondents said they had felt afraid, sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and/or guilty;
  • 55% of respondents felt they would have fewer opportunities than their parents;
  • 65% felt governments were failing young people, while 61% said the way governments deal with climate change was not “protecting me, the planet and/or future generations”;
  • Almost half (48%) of those who said they talked with others about climate change felt ignored or dismissed.
  • Young people surveyed from the Global South expressed more worry and a greater impact on functioning; while young people surveyed in Portugal (which has seen dramatic increases in wildfires since 2017) showed the highest level of worry amongst those from the Global North.
Notes to editor:
  • For further details and interviews with the academics who carried out the study, young people, youth climate activists and others:  
  • About the study: 
    • 10,000 young people (aged 16-25 years) were surveyed, using polling company Kantar, in ten countries: Australia, United States, United Kingdom, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Finland, Portugal, Brazil and France. Data was collected on their thoughts and feelings about climate change, and government response.  
    • The study was carried out by academics from a range of institutions: The University of Bath, the University of Helsinki, NYU Langone Health, University of East Anglia, Stanford Medicine Centre for Innovation in Global Health, and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, The College of Wooster, Climate Psychiatry Alliance.
    • The costs of the survey were funded by AVAAZ. Avaaz is funded by small donations from citizens worldwide which has allowed us to finance urgently needed quantitative research in the emerging field of climate psychology. Avaaz has been campaigning on climate change for over a decade.