Urgent action by States needed to tackle climate change, says UN Committee in guidance on children’s rights and environment
28 August 2023
GENEVA (28 August 2023) – The UN Child Rights Committee today published authoritative guidance on children’s rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change. The guidance specifies the legislative and administrative measures States should urgently implement to address the adverse effects of environmental degradation and climate change on the enjoyment of children’s rights, and to ensure a clean, healthy, and sustainable world now and to preserve it for future generations.
The Committee has adopted its guidance, formally known as General Comment No. 26, after two rounds of consultation with States, national human rights institutions, international organizations, civil society, thematic experts and children. The Committee received 16,331 contributions from children in 121 countries; children shared and reported on the negative effects of environmental degradation and climate change on their lives and communities and asserted their right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
“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, a climate and child rights activist from India and one of the Committee’s child advisers. “General Comment No. 26 is the instrument that will help us understand and exercise our rights in the face of environmental and climate crises,” he added.
The general comment clarifies how children’s rights apply to environmental protection and underscores that children have the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This right is implicit in the Convention and directly linked to, in particular, the rights to life, survival and development, the highest attainable standard of health, an adequate living standard, and education. This right is also necessary for the full enjoyment of children’s rights.
The general comment further asserts that States shall protect children against environmental damage from commercial activities. It specifies that States are obliged 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. Immediate steps should be taken when children are identified as victims to prevent further harm to their health and development and to repair the damage done.
The Committee observes that, in many countries, children encounter barriers to attaining legal standing due to their status, limiting their means of asserting their rights in relation to the environment. States should therefore provide pathways for children to access justice for violations of their rights relating to environmental harm, including through complaints mechanisms that are child-friendly, gender-responsive and disability-inclusive. In addition, mechanisms should be available for claims of imminent or foreseeable harms and past or current violations of children’s rights.
With regard to climate change, the general comment underlines that States must take all necessary measures to protect against harms to children’s rights related to climate change caused by business enterprises, such as by ensuring that businesses rapidly reduce their emissions.
The guidance also emphasises the urgent and collective need for developed States to address the present climate finance gap, including through grants rather than loans to developing States to avoid negative impacts on children’s rights. It also notes that climate finance is overly slanted toward mitigation at the cost of adaptation and loss and damage measures, which has discriminatory effects on children who live in areas where more adaptation measures are needed.
The Committee urges immediate collective States actions to tackle environmental harm and climate change.