Children have the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and governments must urgently act to ensure this, the United Nations says.
In a new report, the UN Child Rights Committee says that climate change is affecting children’s rights to life, survival and development.
It says young children are among the most vulnerable, yet their voices are rarely heard in climate change debates.
Tuesday’s report outlines new guidance for governments to follow.
Drawn up with the help of young people, it includes phasing out fossil fuels and switching to renewable energy.
UN countries will also be required to take measures to protect children from the harmful effects of climate change, such as monitoring air quality, regulating food safety and tackling emissions and toxic lead exposure.
Countries should also address the “clear emerging link” between climate change and children’s mental health, identifying eco-anxiety and depression as conditions that are on the rise.
And the UN says that young people must be included when drawing up new guidance.
Governments are responsible not just for protecting children from immediate harm, the report says, but from the future effects of climate change. They can be held accountable for environmental damage both inside their own borders and beyond them.
The report was compiled following two rounds of consultations with participating countries, national human rights institutions, international bodies, experts, and an advisory committee made up of 12 young climate change advisors.
The committee received 16,331 contributions from children in 121 nations, who shared the effects of environmental degradation and climate change on their lives and communities.
Ann Skelton, who leads the committee said in a statement that the guidelines could have “great and far-reaching legal significance” because it makes clear the obligations governments have to protect children from environmental harms.
“Children are architects, leaders, thinkers and changemakers of today’s world. Our voices matter, and they deserve to be listened to,” said 17-year-old Kartik, a climate and child rights activist from India and one of the committee’s child advisers.
Scientists and politicians say we are facing a planetary crisis because of climate change, and scientists say that there is no doubt that the particularly rapid climate change seen over the past century is caused by humans.
Impacts so far include:
- more frequent and intense extreme weather, such as heatwaves, drought and floods
- rapid melting of glaciers and ice sheets, contributing to sea level rise
- huge declines in Arctic sea ice
- ocean warming and marine heatwaves.