Landmark new guidance from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is demanding that governments take action to protect children in the face of the deepening climate crisis.
This is the first time that the committee has formally affirmed children’s right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment,
By providing what it calls ‘a comprehensive interpretation’ of state obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), this is the first time the committee has formally affirmed youngsters’ right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
The 1989 treaty, which is ratified by 196 countries, outlines children’s rights, including to life, health, clean drinking water, and survival and development. It provides legal guidance on how children’s rights are impacted by a specific topic or area of legislation, with the latest addressing environmental rights with a special focus on climate change.
Phillip Jaffé, a member of the committee, said children were already at the forefront of the fight against climate change, and were urging governments and corporations to take action to safeguard their lives and the future.
“With its General Comment No. 26, the Committee on the Rights of the Child not only echoes and amplifies children’s voices, but also clearly defines the rights of children in relation to the environment that States Parties should respect, protect and fulfil collectively and urgently,” added Jaffé.
‘Vital step forward’
The General Comment explicitly addresses the climate emergency, the collapse of biodiversity and pervasive pollution, and specifies that states are responsible not only for protecting children’s rights from immediate harm, but also for foreseeable violations of their rights in the future due to action, or inaction, today.
Countries which have ratified the UN child rights convention are also urged to take ‘immediate action’ including the phasing out of fossil fuels and shifting to renewable energy sources, improving air quality, ensuring access to clean water, and protecting biodiversity.
The guidance also states that children’s views must be considered in environmental decision-making and stresses the critical role of environmental education.
David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, called General Comment No. 26 ‘a vital step forward’ in recognising that every child has the right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable world.
“Governments must now take urgent action to address the global environmental crisis in order to breathe life into these inspiring words,” he said.
General Comment No. 26 is the outcome of global and intergenerational engagement, including broad consultation with UN Member States, international and regional organizations, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations, and children themselves.
‘A child rights crisis’
Help in developing the new guidance has also come from other UN committee partners which are dedicated to working to help children, including the Switzerland-based charity Terre des Hommes, as well as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which helped collate the views of young people.
General Comment No. 26 is also helpful in interpreting states’ commitment under the Paris Agreement on climate change to respect, promote and consider their child rights obligations when taking climate action.
Paloma Escudero, UNICEF Special Adviser on Advocacy for Child Rights and Climate Action, said: “The climate crisis is a child rights crisis. Every government has an obligation to protect the rights of every child in every corner of the planet, especially those boys and girls living in countries that have contributed least to this problem but are enduring the most dangerous floods, droughts, storms and heat.”
Click here for the guidance.