Children’s rights and the environment

Report on the rights of children and the environment (2018)

Background and summary of the report (A/HRC/37/58)

In its resolution 28/11, the Human Rights Council recognized the ongoing need to clarify some aspects of the human rights obligations relating to the environment. The Council asked the Special Rapporteur to continue to study those obligations, in consultation with Governments, human rights mechanisms, civil society organizations and others. In this connection, the Special Rapporteur submitted a report on children’s rights and the environment to the 37th session of the Council.

In this report (A/HRC/37/58), the Special Rapporteur, Mr. John H. Knox, examines the human rights obligations specifically related to the rights of children and the environment. In his report, he describes the effects of environmental harm on the rights of children as well as human rights obligations relating to the protection of children and future generations from environmental harm.

He’s also produced a child-friendly version of the report (E F S A C R).

Conclusions of the report

No group is more vulnerable to environmental harm than children. Air pollution, water pollution and exposure to toxic substances, together with other types of environmental harm, cause 1.5 million deaths of children under the age of 5 every year, and contribute to disease, disability and early mortality throughout their life. In addition, climate change and the loss of biodiversity threaten to cause long-term effects that will blight children’s lives for years to come. Making matters worse, children are often not able to exercise their rights, including their rights to information, participation and access to effective remedies.

States must do more to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of children in relation to environmental harm. To that end, the present report includes a number of specific recommendations, which build on the work of other special rapporteurs, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, OHCHR, UNICEF, WHO and the many others who submitted oral and written communications during the preparation of the report.

With respect to children’s educational and procedural rights, States should, among other things:
(a) Ensure that educational programmes increase children’s understanding of environmental issues and strengthen their capacity to respond to environmental challenges;

(b) Ensure that the effects of proposed measures on children’s rights are assessed before the measures are taken or approved;

(c) Collect information about sources of environmental harm to children and make the information publicly available and accessible;

(d) Facilitate the participation of children in environmental decision-making processes, and protect them from reprisals for their participation or otherwise expressing their views on environmental matters;

(e) Remove barriers that children face to access to justice for environmental harm to the full enjoyment of their human rights.

States also have heightened obligations to take effective substantive measures to protect children from environmental harm, including by ensuring that their best interests are a primary consideration with respect to all decision-making that may cause them environmental harm. In particular, States should adopt and implement environmental standards that are consistent with the best available science and relevant international health and safety standards, never take retrogressive measures, and pursue precautionary measures to protect against environmental harm, especially when there are threats of serious or irreversible damage.

Preparation of the report

In preparation of the report, the Special Rapporteur held an expert meeting and a public consultation from 20 to 22 June 2017.

The Special Rapporteur examined statements and reports by international organizations, human rights mechanisms, scholars and other sources.
In addition, he sent a questionnaire to States and other interested stakeholders (English | French | Spanish) which elicited over 40 responses. Submissions to the questionnaire are available.

Human Rights Council presentation

During the Council session, he made a statement and his interactive dialogue with states and other stakeholders was webcasted.

Follow-up process: children’s right to a healthy and sustainable environment

The Special Rapporteur in collaboration with partners set up a follow-up process to the report on children’s rights and the environment aimed at promoting children’s right to a healthy environment. For details, see the project concept note (English | Spanish).

The overall aim of the initiative is to further deepen our understanding on this important agenda in the context of children’s right to a healthy environment. Building on recent developments and international frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals, this initiative will promote the implementation of children’s right to a healthier and more sustainable environment by:

  • empowering children and youth in relation to their rights regarding the environment
  • increasing awareness among national, regional and global decision-makers about the relationship between children’s rights and the environment, including State obligations in this respect
  • increasing capacity of States and other relevant stakeholders in implementing children’s rights relating to the environment
  • convening key stakeholders and facilitating dialogue and stronger cooperation in relation to child and environmental protection
  • gathering good practices relating to tangible policies and measures which have proven effective within a national context and which could be replicated across other locations, as well as lessons learned and challenges to effective implementation
  • further clarifying States’ obligations regarding the implementation of child rights in the environmental context and contributing to standard-setting and policy development in this area
  • promoting children’s right to live in a healthy and sustainable environment, including efforts to influence other relevant international, regional and national processes and fora.

As part of the project, the Special Rapporteur will organize a series of regional workshops in the coming years. The first meeting with a focus on the Latin America and Caribbean region is taking place in Bogota, Colombia on 2 and 3 May 2019