NEWS – In a groundbreaking development, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has issued a pivotal set of guidelines, urging nations to take resolute action in upholding children’s entitlement to a pristine, healthful, and sustainable environment. As the world grapples with the escalating climate crisis, the Committee has outlined precise mandates within the framework of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
On August 28, 2023, In an unprecedented move, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has explicitly solidified children’s right to a clean, healthful, and sustainable environment. This groundbreaking statement provides an all-encompassing elucidation of the responsibilities Member States bear under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Established in 1989 and ratified by 196 nations, this Convention delineates fundamental rights for children globally, encompassing the right to life, survival, development, and health. A “General Comment” furnishes legal direction pertaining to the implications of these rights concerning specific subjects or realms of legislation.
The newly released “General Comment No. 26 on Children’s Rights and the Environment, with a Special Emphasis on Climate Change,” directly addresses the climate emergency, the decline of biodiversity, and widespread pollution, outlining counteractive measures to shield the lives and future prospects of children. Philip Jaffé, a member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, expressed:
“Across the world, children have spearheaded the battle against climate change, urging their governments and corporations to step up in safeguarding the planet and their own futures. With the issuance of General Comment No. 26, the Committee on the Rights of the Child not only reverberates and magnifies the voices of children but also explicitly defines the entitlements of children regarding the environment – entitlements that States Parties ought to uphold, protect, and expeditiously fulfill as a collective endeavor.”
David Boyd, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, asserted, “This innovative General Comment signifies a pivotal stride towards acknowledging the inherent right of every child on Earth to inhabit a clean, healthful, and sustainable environment. It is now incumbent upon governments to take urgent action to confront the global environmental crisis, breathing life into these inspiring principles.”
General Comment No. 26 articulates that States bear the responsibility not only to shield children’s rights from immediate perils but also to prevent foreseeable breaches of their rights in the future, arising from actions or inactions by States in the present.
Moreover, it underscores that States can be held accountable not solely for environmental harm within their borders but also for the detrimental repercussions of ecological devastation and climate change beyond their confines. The document accentuates particular attention to be directed towards the disproportionate harm experienced by disadvantaged children.
The 196 States that have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child are implored to undertake prompt measures, including orchestrating the phasing out of coal, oil, and natural gas in favor of renewable energy sources, enhancing air quality, ensuring access to unpolluted water, transforming industrial agriculture and fisheries for the production of wholesome and sustainable nourishment, and safeguarding biodiversity.
The guidance affirms that the opinions of children must be factored into decisions concerning the environment, and it underscores the indispensable role of environmental education in readying children to take initiative, advocate for change, and guard themselves against environmental threats.
General Comment No. 26 embodies the culmination of global and intergenerational involvement, including extensive consultations with Member States, international and regional entities such as United Nations bodies and specialized organizations, national human rights institutions, civil society groups, and children themselves.
Joshua Hofert, the Executive Director of Terre des Hommes Germany, remarked, “Children bear the least culpability for the climate crisis, yet they shoulder the heaviest burden of its consequences: annually, 1.7 million children below the age of five succumb to preventable environmental harm. Nonetheless, children and youth remain underrepresented in nearly all decision-making processes concerning environmental policies’’.
He added “Through General Comment No. 26, we have endeavored to reshape this paradigm. Garnering input from over 16,000 children spanning 121 countries, this initiative has marked one of the most inclusive instances of child participation at the UN level to date. At Terre des Hommes, we take pride in our role in orchestrating this remarkable process in collaboration with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.”
Terre des Hommes, the official partner of the Committee in formulating General Comment No. 26, orchestrated a multifaceted effort involving various stakeholders, notably children engaged through online consultations to inform the essence and content of the document.
The international child rights organization led a worldwide Advisory Board comprising experts and a team of 12 young advisors aged 11 to 17, working in tandem with the Committee. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), a member of the Advisory Board, contributed further technical expertise and facilitated the collection of perspectives from children globally as part of the consultation process.
One of the young advisors, Āniva, a 17-year-old advocate for climate and child rights hailing from the Pacific Islands, shared, “To me, the General Comment signifies a global transformation that is imperative as we navigate the challenges of environmental issues and take united action to shield our planet for our generation and those to come.
It furnishes children with a firmer foundation within international law to assert our Rights to a Healthful Environment. We are witnessing a global surge in initiatives aimed at safeguarding the environment through Human Rights, and GC26 plays a pivotal role in this movement.”
General Comment No. 26 contributes to the interpretation of States’ obligations under the Paris Agreement to respect, advocate, and account for their child rights responsibilities while addressing climate change.
It additionally underscores the necessity for child rights impact assessments for all legislation, policies, projects, regulations, budget allocations, and other decisions linked to the environment. States are to periodically report to the UN Committee on the progress they have achieved in upholding children’s environmental rights.
Paloma Escudero, UNICEF’s Special Adviser on Advocacy for Child Rights and Climate Action, emphasized, “Climate funding and policy determinations persistently overlook the needs of children. This must change. The General Comment serves as a pressing call for countries to prioritize action in every facet of childhood impacted by climate change encompassing a child’s right to education, to uncontaminated water, and to a healthful environment. The climate crisis is, at its core, a child rights crisis’’.
Paloma added “Each government bears an obligation to safeguard the rights of every child across the globe, especially those young individuals residing in nations that have contributed least to this crisis yet find themselves grappling with the most perilous floods, droughts, storms, and heat waves.”
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