August 28, 2023

UN: Governments Must Protect Children from Climate Change

Committee on Rights of the Child Affirms Children’s Right to a Healthy Environment

Governments must take urgent steps to implement the new, authoritative guidance of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to prevent, mitigate, and remediate the impact of climate change and other environmental harms on children.

The newly-released General Comment on Children’s Rights and the Environment with a Special Focus on Climate Change (General Comment No. 26) is an authoritative interpretation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by 195 countries and is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty. Only the United States and Somalia have failed to ratify the Convention.

“The triple planetary crisis of climate change, the collapse of biodiversity, and pervasive pollution is an urgent threat to children’s rights globally,” said Linda Lakhdhir, Legal Director at Climate Rights International. “The 195 countries that are party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child can now be in no doubt about their legal obligations to ensure that children live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.”

In a key conclusion, the Committee says that states should “equitably phase out the use of coal, oil and natural gas, ensure a fair and just transition of energy sources, and invest in renewable energy, energy storage and energy efficiency” in order to realize children’s right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Not only must states refrain from causing environmental harm, but they must also protect children against environmental damage from other sources and third parties, including by regulating businesses.

The Comment highlights state responsibility to mitigate the impact of climate change, noting that mitigation measures “should reflect each State party’s fair share of the global effort to mitigate climate change, in the light of the total reductions necessary to protect against continuing and worsening violations of children’s rights.”

Critically, at a time when young people protesting in defense of the environment face ever-increasing government repression, the Committee highlights the importance of the right to protest and the obligation of governments to protect that right.

Recognizing the principle of intergenerational equity and the rights of future generations, the Committee noted that “[w]hile the rights of children who are present on Earth require immediate urgent attention, the children constantly arriving are also entitled to the realization of their human rights to the maximum extent.”

“States must act now to protect not only children currently alive, but those who are yet to be born, who will suffer the devastation caused by current and ongoing emissions,” said Lakhdhir. “Failure to act is simply no longer an option.”

Photo Credit: A school near Lushoto, Tanzania, where children are taught reforestation techniques. © 2014 CIAT / GeorginaSmith (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

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