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GENEVA: Landmark Recognition Says Inaction on Climate Crisis is a Child Rights' Violation

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (Aug. 28, 2023) — Governments will need to recognize that inaction on the climate crisis is a child rights violation, factor environmental concerns into their efforts to protect and fulfill children's rights, and empower and protect child activists, thanks to a landmark new UN document published today.

In a major step for the world's 2.4 billion children now currently experiencing the climate emergency, the new document recognizes children's right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This is a result of scores of children across the world who have been calling for change, Save the Children said. 

In this new text, "General Comment No. 26 on children's rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change", the Committee of the Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes that: 

  • The triple planetary crisis (pollution, climate crisis and biodiversity loss) constitutes a child rights violation; 
  • Environmental degradation affects every aspect of children's lives and threatens their future; 
  • Inaction by governments and businesses to address the environmental crisis results in child rights violations and the deprivation of their future; 
  • Children are not just passive victims, as demonstrated by their strong movement globally.

Through providing guidelines to national governments that have ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the Committee is now calling on these governments to: 

  • Integrate environmental and climate issues in their work towards the fulfilment of every other child's right; 
  • Empower children and protect child campaigners and activists, demanding, among other things, that they are given access to courts and that they are protected from retaliation when they participate in activism; 
  • Inform children of environmental considerations and include them in decision-making processes that will affect their lives; 
  • Regulate business activities to ensure that they follow due diligence procedures that integrate children's rights impact assessments into their operations.

Olt*, 16, from Kosovo, is a member of the child-led group Respect our Rights, which is supported by Save the Children. Olt is one of the children consulted by the Committee about this decision and said during the campaign: "Science proves that the earth is dying, and adults need to hear us because we are more aware of the damage that they have done to our world. So, it is very important to listen because our opinion is valid no matter the age, no matter who, no matter where we are from, everyone's opinion is valid, and we see the world from a different perspective than adults."

"If I could tell world leaders something that they need to do and advice is take action now, literally now, because there is not a lot of time to take action. Our world is dying, and there is so little time for us to help it, to save it. And if we don't want our kind to go extinct, we must take action now."

Across the world, the rate at which children are experiencing the impacts of the climate crisis is escalating. Save the Children's report published with climate researchers at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Born into the climate crisis: why we must act now to secure children's rights, found that, based on the original Paris Agreement pledges, children across the world will face far more climate impacts such as heatwaves, droughts, floods, cyclones and crop failures than their grandparents – particularly those in many low and middle-income countries.

Michel Anglade, Director of Save the Children's Advocacy Office in Geneva, said: "Over the past few years, children have been speaking out and forcing us to reckon with the impact of our lifestyles on the planet and, in turn, on the rights, lives and wellbeing of children and future generations. Children tell us how they and their friends are going hungry due to crop failures; how flooding prevents them from going to school – and they need us to act urgently.

"This landmark document – a response to the change spurred by children across the world - will hopefully prompt states to incorporate environmental and climate change concerns into their legislation, regulate businesses, and allow children to continue to demand climate justice."


Notes to editors 

This "General Comment" was drafted by the Committee of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, composed of 18 independent experts who evaluate the work of governments on children's rights. This document is a response by the UN to the wide call of children for the international community to react to current environmental devastation and climate change. 

This Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989 and ratified by 196 states, outlines universal children's rights, such as the right to life, survival and development. A General Comment provides guidance on what these rights imply for a specific topic or area of legislation. The now published "General Comment No. 26 on children's rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change" explicitly addresses the climate emergency, the collapse of biodiversity and pervasive pollution, outlining countermeasures to protect the lives and life perspectives of children.

* Name has been changed to protect identity

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