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New UN Guidance Affirms Children’s Right to Clean, Healthy Environment

By Yemi Olakitan

Recent advice from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child urges nations to take measures to safeguard boys and girls in the face of the worsening climate disaster.

For the first time, the Committee’s General Comment No. 26 upholds children’s constitutional rights to a pristine, healthy, and sustainable environment.

It provides a comprehensive analysis of what States must do in accordance with the 196-nation UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which outlines children’s rights, including the rights to life, health, clean water, and survival and development.

A General Comment offers legal advice on how a particular issue or area of law affects children’s rights, and the most recent one addresses environmental rights with a strong emphasis on climate change.

According to Committee member Philip Jaffé, children have been at the forefront of the fight against climate change, calling on governments and businesses to take action to protect their lives and their future.

He stated, “With General Comment No. 26, the Committee on the Rights of the Child not only echoes and strengthens the voices of children but also explicitly specifies the rights of children regarding the environment that States Parties should respect, safeguard, and immediately fulfill.”

The comment states that States are accountable for not only preventing immediate harm to children’s rights but also for predictable future violations of those rights due to actions or omissions taken today.

It also emphasizes that States are accountable for environmental harm occurring both within and outside their borders.

Nations that have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are urged to take immediate action, including phasing out fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources, improving air quality, ensuring access to clean water, and protecting biodiversity.

The guidelines also underscore the importance of environmental education and state that children’s opinions must be considered when making environmental decisions.

General Comment No. 26 is “a crucial step forward” in recognizing that every child has the right to live in a clean, healthy, and sustainable world, according to David Boyd, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment.

To translate these encouraging words into action, he stated, “governments must now urgently address the global environmental crisis.”

General Comment No. 26 is the result of extensive consultation with UN Member States, international and regional organizations, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations, and children themselves. This engagement spanned generations and occurred on a global scale.

Additionally, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) provided technical expertise and facilitated the gathering of children’s opinions as part of the consultation process.

General Comment No. 26 provides guidance on how to interpret States’ commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change to respect, advance, and consider their obligations regarding children’s rights while implementing climate action.

UNICEF Special Adviser on Advocacy for Child Rights and Climate Action, Paloma Escudero, emphasized, “The climate crisis is a child rights crisis.”

Every government is obligated to uphold the rights of all children worldwide, particularly those living in nations that have made the fewest contributions to the issue but are currently experiencing the worst floods, droughts, storms, and heat.

The new UN recommendations on young people and climate change are expected to have “significant impacts.”

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