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Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Strong youth participation is key to protecting planet and rights, Türk says

26 September 2023

Delivered by

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


54th Session of UN Human Rights Council

Panel on youth and human rights:
“Youth engagement in climate change and
global environmental decision-making processes”

Mr Vice-President,
Distinguished panellists,

Thank you, Mr Vice-President, for the invitation to be part of this recurrent panel on youth and human rights. I am particularly delighted to see so many young people participating today; this is really important for the Council.

It is fitting that the focus today is on youth engagement in climate change and global environmental decision-making processes.

When I went last month to southern Iraq, I experienced the intensity of 50 degrees Celsius heat in a once fertile neighbourhood whose waterways are now just a memory.

While the impacts of the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution are already being dramatically felt today, it is young people - and future generations - who will, unfortunately, bear the brunt.

It is also young people who have stepped forward, with commitment and creativity, to demand immediate and ambitious action from governments and businesses in the face of this unprecedented crisis for the planet and for human rights.

They know too well that we have absolutely no time to waste.

If we are serious about confronting the scale of the challenge before us, it is vital that we learn from young people about their experiences of participating in climate and in environmental decision-making processes.

And what needs to change to make this engagement truly meaningful and for their views and recommendations to be put into action.

In listening to your experiences, I am mindful of the decades of youth activism that have provided the momentum for many of the advances that we have made so far in protecting our planet.

From involvement in international processes on biodiversity and on plastics to the push for the recognition of the right to a healthy environment.

And youth engagement, today, continues to inspire me with its vision, creativity and energy.

We will hear, for example, from the remarkable World’s Youth 4 Climate Justice Campaign.

And recently I have been struck by the wave of climate-related court cases that are led by children and young people with their roots in human rights principles, all around the world. As tribunals see the fundamental justice in these suits, they are succeeding in diverse.

Today, our world is home to the largest generation of young people in history - 1.8 billion.

Yet this important portion of the world’s population faces multiple barriers when they seek to engage in global climate change and environmental decision-making processes.

Despite their right to participate under international human rights and environment law. barriers include financial constraints and lack of digital connectivity to limited education on the issues.

But, also, safety.  Young environmental human rights defenders have to contend with physical and online threats, shrinking civic space, and increasingly, criminalization of their legitimate activities.

These barriers are multiplied for young people who face intersecting forms of discrimination or who are in situations of particular vulnerability, including youth with disabilities, Indigenous youth and girls.

And even where engagement is possible, it is often not meaningful - undermined by limited access, poor information and a lack of government accountability.

Dear colleagues,

My Office has issued guidelines on the effective implementation of the right to participation. We have shared it widely across youth networks and it is also, obviously, a practical resource for States.

We, ourselves, have put youth engagement at the heart of our Human Rights at 75 Initiative.

We have an inspiring Youth Advisory Group that has provided invaluable insights for this initiative, and which is developing a Youth Declaration drawing on the views and recommendations that emerged from our global youth consultation.

So as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I urge every State to respond to the voices of young people, and to prioritize their participation in climate and environmental processes.

By working, with urgency, to dismantle barriers to meaningful participation, and through actively engaging young people as knowledge-holders, change-makers and partners in designing solutions.

It is only by coming together that we can deliver the radical changes needed to protect our planet for generations to come.

Thank you.