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Children’s rights and the environment

Report to the Human Rights Council on the rights of children and the environment (2018)


Background of the report

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.

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 disrupt 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.

The Special Rapporteur submitted the report on children’s rights and the environment to the 37th session of the Council.

Conclusions of the report

The report (A/HRC/37/58) indicates that States must do more to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of children in relation to environmental harm. It lays out 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:

  1. Ensure that educational programmes increase children’s understanding of environmental issues and strengthen their capacity to respond to environmental challenges;
  2. Ensure that the effects of proposed measures on children’s rights are assessed before the measures are taken or approved;
  3. Collect information about sources of environmental harm to children and make the information publicly available and accessible;
  4. 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;
  5. And 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 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. States must never take retrogressive measures. They should pursue precautionary measures to protect against environmental harm, especially when there are threats of serious or irreversible damage.

Read the child-friendly version of the report on the rights of children and the environment, available in all 6 UN languages
Arabic | Chinese | English | French | Russian | Spanish

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 more than 40 responses. Submissions to the questionnaire are available online.

Human Rights Council presentation

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

Global Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI): advancing 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 further promoting a children's right to a healthy and sustainable environment.

This initiative builds on recent developments and international frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals. It aims is to boost recognition and implementation of children's right to a healthy and sustainable environment by: 

  • empowering children and youth in relation to their rights regarding the environment
  • increasing awareness and building capacity among national, regional and global decision-makers about the relationship on children’s rights and the environment, including State obligations in this respect
  • convening key stakeholders and facilitating dialogue and stronger cooperation in relation to fulfilling children’s right to a healthy environment
  • Shaping and securing international recognition of a global set of guiding principles on children’s environmental rights, and informing standard-setting and policy development at global, regional and national levels.

As part of the initiative, the Special Rapporteur is organizing a series of regional consultations to bring together children, young people and experts to discuss specific environmental issues facing children in the region, and tangible solutions to meet these challenges. CERI also organizes digital consultations, provides technical guidance and capacity building tools, and undertakes advocacy to promote children’s right to a safe and healthy environment in key fora.

  • First meeting: 2 and 3 May 2019, Bogota, Colombia
  • Second meeting: 22 and 23 October 2019, Bogor, Indonesia
  • Third meeting: TBD

Get more information about Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI).

Read the project concept note (English | Español).