The Committee on the Rights of the Child adopts a guide with legislative measures that States should apply to address environmental degradation

Children have the right to a clean environment and states have the duty to guarantee it

© UNICEF/Saiyna Bashir Unos niños se dirigen a su casa en agua contaminada de una inundación en Jacobabad, provincia de Sindh, Pakistán (foto de archivo)
photo_camera © UNICEF/Saiyna Bashir Children walk home in contaminated flood water in Jacobabad, Sindh province, Pakistan (file photo)

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has published a guide on children's rights and the environment, with special attention to climate change.

The recommendations specify the legislative and administrative measures that States should urgently implement to address the adverse effects of environmental degradation and climate change, ensure a clean, healthy and sustainable world and preserve it for future generations.

The adoption of the guide, formally known as General Comment No. 26, takes place after two rounds of consultations with countries, national human rights institutions, international organizations, civil society, experts in the field and children.

The Committee noted that it received 16,331 contributions from children from 121 countries, who shared and reported on the negative effects of environmental degradation on their lives and communities, and affirmed their right to live in a healthy environment.

"Children are architects, leaders, thinkers and change agents of today's world. Our voices matter and deserve to be heard," said Kartik, 17, a climate and children's rights activist from India and one of the committee's child advisers.

"General Comment No. 26 is the instrument that will help us to understand and exercise our rights in the face of environmental and climate crises," he added.

Legal importance

"This General Comment has great legal and far-reaching importance," the chairperson of the Committee stated, stressing that it 鈥漝etails the obligations of States under the Convention on the Rights of the Child to address environmental damage and ensure that children can exercise their rights."

Ann Skelton specified that 鈥渢his encompasses their rights to information, participation and access to justice to ensure that they will be protected from harm caused by environmental degradation and climate change and receive redress."

The document clarifies how children's rights apply to environmental protection and underlines that they have the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This right is implicit in the Convention and is directly linked, in particular, to the rights to life, survival and development, to the highest attainable standard of health, to an adequate standard of living and to education.

It also affirms that States must protect children from environmental damage resulting from commercial activities and that the authorities are obliged to provide legislative frameworks, to ensure that companies respect children's rights and require them to act diligently in relation to the environment and reduce their emissions.

Access to justice

The Committee notes that, in many countries, children face obstacles to obtaining legal capacity due to their status, which limits their means of asserting their rights in relation to the environment.

States should therefore provide avenues for children to access justice for violations of their rights related to environmental damage, including through child-friendly, gender-sensitive complaint mechanisms that include persons with disabilities. In addition, mechanisms should be available for claims for imminent or foreseeable damages and for past or present violations.

Subsidies to developing countries

The guidance also emphasizes the urgent need for developed States to address the current climate finance gap, including through grants rather than loans to developing countries.

According to the authors, climate finance is excessively biased towards mitigation at the expense of adaptation and loss and damage measures, which has discriminatory effects on children living in areas where more adaptation measures are needed.

In this context, the Committee urged States to take immediate collective measures to address environmental damage and climate change.

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