UN strengthens children’s rights to fight climate change in court

“Children are architects, leaders, thinkers and changemakers of today’s world. Our voices matter, and they deserve to be listened to.”


The United Nations Child Rights Committee has published new guidance on the rights of children in relation to the environment with a particular emphasis on climate change.

The UN’s direction on the matter sets forth specific administrative measures nation-states should implement in order to tackle how climate change and humans’ degradation of the environment are affecting children’s rights of enjoyment, as well as to ensure a clean and sustainable planet for current and future generations, a press release from the UN said.

The UN Committee adopted its guidance, officially General Comment No. 26, following consultation with national human rights institutions, nations, international organizations, experts, civil society and children. Children from 121 countries contributed 16,331 comments to the discussion.

“Children are architects, leaders, thinkers and changemakers of today’s world. Our voices matter, and they deserve to be listened to,” said 17-year-old Kartik, an Indian child rights activist who is one of the child advisers of the committee, in the press release. “General Comment No. 26 is the instrument that will help us understand and exercise our rights in the face of environmental and climate crises.”

The general comment provides clarification on how the rights of children apply to environmental protection, as well as emphasizes children’s right to a healthy, clean and sustainable environment. This right is directly linked to the rights of survival, life and development, education, the highest attainable health standard and an adequate standard of living.

“This general comment is of great and far-reaching legal significance,” said Committee Chair Ann Skelton in the press release. “[I]t details States’ obligations under the Child Rights Convention to address environmental harms and guarantee that children are able to exercise their rights. This encompasses their rights to information, participation, and access to justice to ensure that they will be protected from and receive remedies for the harms caused by environmental degradation and climate change.”

The general comment goes on to declare that countries shall give children protection against the environmental damage caused by commercial activities. It says nations have an obligation to “provide legislative, regulative and enforcement frameworks to ensure that businesses respect children’s rights, and should require businesses to undertake due diligence regarding children’s rights and the environment,” the UN press release said.

General Comment No. 26 also says that, when children have been identified as victims, immediate steps should be taken in order to prevent further harm and to repair the damage.

It has been observed by the committee that, due to their status, children face barriers in the attainment of legal standing in many countries, which limit their ability to assert their rights as relates to the environment.


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