A panel for the United Nations agreed that countries have a responsibility to protect their children from climate change and to allow children to pursue legal action against their governments for perceived climate negligence.
The UN’s independent Committee on the Rights of the Child updated a key treaty Monday, stating that countries have an obligation to protect their young citizens from “environmental degradation,” which amounts to “a form of structural violence against children,” the UN report states. The treaty is not binding and is therefore unenforceable, but it could help young climate activists across the world looking to sue their governments for perceived failures on climate policy, a trend which has started to emerge in the U.S. and several other nations, according to Reuters.
“The extent and magnitude of the triple planetary crisis, comprising the climate emergency, the collapse of biodiversity and pervasive pollution, is an urgent and systemic threat to children’s rights globally,” the report states. The report further calls for countries to adopt “a legal and institutional framework within which children can effectively exercise their rights” pertaining to climate and environment.
The UN panel’s update follows a Montana judge’s decision to rule in favor of a group of young citizens who sued the state on the grounds that it allegedly violated their rights to a clean environment. Elsewhere in the world, young Portuguese citizens concerned about climate change have filed a lawsuit against 32 European states in the European Court of Human Rights, citing perceived governmental inaction on climate as their central grievance, according to Reuters.
The panel’s report also calls on countries to enable children to more easily initiate legal proceedings themselves. The report’s expert authors reportedly consulted about 16,000 children from all over the world in writing the report, according to Reuters.
“Poorer households are less resilient to environment-related shocks, including those caused or exacerbated by climate change… hardships, food and clean water shortages and fragile child protection systems brought about by such shocks undermine families’ daily routines, place an extra burden on children and increase their vulnerability to gender-based violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation, child labour, abduction, trafficking, displacement, sexual violence and exploitation and recruitment into criminal, armed and/or violent extremist groups,” the report states.
The UN has previously given children a platform to opine on climate change-related issues. In 2019, Greta Thunberg, the then 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden diagnosed with autism, delivered a fiery speech to attendees of the UN’s Climate Action Summit before going on to be named 2019’s person of the year by Time Magazine.
Representatives for the UN did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
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