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Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Child rights and the Environment

Launch of General Comment No. 26 on children’s rights and the environment, with a special focus on climate change

18 September 2023

Delivered by

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


94th session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child



My greetings to you all. I very much regret that I am not able to be with you in person for the launch of this landmark General Comment.

I particularly want to thank the Child Advisors who are a huge part of the reason you are all gathered here today. Your dedication and insight have played a key role in arriving at this important moment. On a personal note, it was such a pleasure to spend time with two of these remarkable advisors, Maya-Natuk and Francisco, earlier in the year.

I also congratulate the Child Advisors for your excellent initiative in producing a child-friendly version of the General Comment. I know that this will have enormous impact, raising awareness and enabling children everywhere to speak up for their rights.

And an amazing number of children - over 16,000 in 121 countries – took part in the consultations for this General Comment. Thank you all for placing trust in this process and for your ideas and concerns. Your voices have been heard.

And we must keep listening. Listening with clear intention.

With every passing week, we witness the devastating impact of the triple planetary crisis of the climate emergency, biodiversity loss and pervasive pollution. On our present trajectory, this will only get worse.

This planetary crisis is a human rights crisis that affects every child. Data from the IPCC’s sixth assessment report starkly illustrates that children are disproportionately impacted by the climate emergency, especially those already in disadvantaged situations.

Yet, children from every region are stepping forward as agents of change, calling on those in power to act with the urgency and ambition to tackle global environmental harm.

Children are at the forefront of a wave of groundbreaking litigation around the world that has the potential not only to ensure greater accountability on the part of governments and business, but also to trigger fundamental shifts in approach.

Just last month, a US court upheld a complaint by young activists, referring to the right to a clean and healthful environment in the state’s constitution.


The General Comment being launched today is of great significance and is relevant to every State, and every child.

It confirms that the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is implicit in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

And that this right is essential for the full enjoyment of a broad range of children’s rights, including the rights to life, health and education.

It urges States to take immediate action to address the adverse effects of environmental degradation and climate change on children’s rights, including immediate steps on air quality, access to safe water and fossil fuel dependency.

If implemented, it will result in governments routinely conducting child impact assessments for any legislation, policy, budget or decision that is related to the environment.

And it will encourage States to engage more robustly with companies to ensure their emissions reduce at pace and that their business operations are subject to effective human rights due diligence.

It makes a timely call for collective action by all States to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, including the discontinuation of state subsidies where these undermine low emission pathways.

It also makes clear that children are entitled to participate freely and meaningfully in environmental decision-making processes.

And that they must have accessible avenues to hold States and other actors accountable, including through the courts.

It looks, importantly, to the future, reminding States that the choices they make today have the power to transform the lives of children for decades to come.

I congratulate you on this important work, and encourage all States to implement the Committee's recommendations as swiftly as possible.