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In a First, UN Committee Comes out With Guidance on Child Rights and Climate Change

The latest UN guidance calls for governments to take action in protecting children amidst the deepening climate crisis.
Protetion of Child RIghts

A United Nations (UN) committee has come out with new guidance on August 28 that calls for governments to take action in protecting children amidst the deepening climate crisis. The guidance formulated by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, called General Comment No. 26, affirms the rights of children to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. 

The general comment issues a comprehensive interpretation of the obligations of the member states under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This UN convention was created in 1990 and was ratified by 196 nations. It defines the universal rights of children, such as the right to life, survival and development, and health. A general comment is actually the legal guidance about the implication of these rights. The latest General comment no. 26 is focused on climate change.

The latest UN guidance provides authoritative guidance specifying the legislative and administrative measures that states should implement urgently to address the adversities of environmental degradation and climate change in enjoying children's rights, like living in a clean, healthy and sustainable world. 

The UN guidance addresses three specific points: the climate emergency, biodiversity collapse, and all-pervasive pollution. Children especially are susceptible to all these factors, and in situations where they don’t cease to increase, children’s well-being and future become matters of great concern. The general comment 26 attempts to produce outlines the countermeasures to be taken so as to ‘protect lives and live perspectives of children, as UNICEF writes

The UN Child Rights Committee adopted General Comment 26 after consulting with states, human rights institutions, international organisations, civil societies, etc., for two rounds. The committee received 16,331 contributions from children in 121 countries where the children reported about the negative impacts of climate change and the resultant environmental degradation upon their lives before they adopted the guidance. 

Commenting on the legal guidance bestowed on General Comment 26, Ann Skelton, who is the chair of the UN Child Rights Committee, was quoted to have said, “This general comment is of great and far-reaching legal significance, as it details States’ obligations under the Child Rights Convention to address environmental harms and guarantee that children are able to exercise their rights. This encompasses their rights to information, participation, and access to justice to ensure that they will be protected from and receive remedies for the harms caused by environmental degradation and climate change.”

With the coming of the UN guidance, it becomes imperative that children's rights are legally bound to the broader issue of climate change. This means that states will have to ensure the protection of children against environmental degradation due to commercial activities. The states have become obliged to provide legislative, regulative and enforcement frameworks for ensuring businesses respect children’s rights. This also comes with another obligation that businesses must undertake due steps in protecting children’s rights and the environment. Moreover, immediate measures should be taken in the situation where children are identified as victims to curb further harm and repair the damage caused already. 

The committee observed that children of many countries are barred from attaining legal provisions due to their status, which is the limiting factor in achieving their rights relating to the environment. The states, therefore, should provide means for children to get justice when their rights are violated relating to the environment.

Philip Jaffe, a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, as mentioned by UNICEF, was quoted to have said, “Children worldwide have been leading the fight against climate change, calling on their governments and corporations to take action to protect the planet and their future. With its General Comment No. 26, the Committee on the Rights of the Child not only echoes and amplifies children’s voices but also clearly defines children's rights in relation to the environment that States Parties should respect, protect and fulfil… collectively and urgently!”

“This new General Comment marks a vital step forward in recognising 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.”

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