Geneva, 28 August 2023 (TDI): The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child affirmed children’s right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.

This was crystallized by the Committee issuing comprehensive guidance on Member States’ obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Convention, formulated in 1989 and ratified by 198 countries, highlights children’s universal rights which include the right to life, survival and development, and the right to health.

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Currently, the Committee has released a “General Comment No. 26 Children’s rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change.”

General Comment No. 26 specifically addresses issues such as the climate emergency, the collapse of biodiversity, and harmful pollution. It outlines measures to protect the lives and life perspectives of children.

It calls on governments across the globe to tackle the global environmental crisis to realize the General Comment objectives.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child not only echoes children’s voices but also emphasises the rights of children in relation to the environment.

“This new General Comment marks a vital step forward in the recognition that every child on Earth has the right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Governments must now take urgent action to address the global environmental crisis in order to breathe life into these inspiring words”, stresses UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, David Boyd.

Hence, General Comment No. 26 specifies that States are responsible not only for protecting children’s rights from immediate harm but also for foreseeable violations of their rights in the future due to States’ acts or failure to act today.

Progressively, it holds that States can be held accountable for environmental harm occurring within their borders, and for the harmful impacts of environmental damage and climate change beyond their borders.

Special attention is to be paid to disproportionate harm faced by children in disadvantaged situations.

From the foregoing, the Committee urges the 196 States that have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child to take immediate action.

This includes organizing the phase-out of coal, oil, and natural gas and shifting to renewable energy sources.

Additionally, improving air quality and ensuring access to clean water, transforming industrial agriculture and fisheries to produce healthy and sustainable food, and protecting biodiversity.

Children’s Inclusion in Policymaking Process

Similarly, the Committee reiterates the inclusion of children’s views in environmental decision-making and stresses the critical role of environmental education in preparing children to take action, advocate, and protect themselves from environmental harm.

Conclusively, General Comment No. 26 is the outcome of a global and intergenerational engagement, including broad consultation with Member States, international and regional organizations, such as United Nations entities and specialized bodies, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations, and children themselves.