Children & young people's brilliant ideas, which include a national tree planting day (image of two girls planting a tree), food labeling (a carton of milk with a label of CO2) and sustainable farming (an image of crops being rotated)

The link between a healthy environment and children’s rights

A healthy environment is vital for the realisation of the rights of children guaranteed by the UNCRC and as such, “no group is more vulnerable to environmental harm than children”. This is because, the impact of environmental harm can leave more than a billion children without an education because of the damage to schools from cyclones or wildfires; flooded towns and houses can affect the access to adequate housing of more than 500 million children; and everyday eco anxiety affects the mental health of six in 10 young people between ages of 16 to 25.

Recognising the importance of a healthy environment on children and young people’s lives, the UN Human Rights Council recently passed a resolution declaring the right of everyone to a healthy environment. Although the resolution is non-binding, it provides an avenue to demand decision makers to take action to reduce carbon emissions and protect the rights of children impacted by climate change. This was made possible by the voices of children and young people urging decision makers to act!

Why is children’s participation in climate action important?

Children and young people understand the impact climate change will have on their future and how it impacts them currently. Led by their experiences, they have brilliant ideas that are invaluable in mitigating climate change. For example, children have made calls to action on what decision makers need to do to tackle climate emergency. This includes the national tree planting day, sustainable farming and labelling foods to show their impact on the environment.  Young advocates have developed platforms to share their experiences and insights on climate change issues. Some organisations have created opportunities for young children to engage with leaders to express their concerns and also share ideas on climate solutions that are being implemented in some countries. As such, children and young people’s contributions should be at the centre of climate conversations.

How can you support children to participate in climate action?

The future belongs to children, young people and future generations and as such, it is vital that they are able to contribute their ideas and that these are heard and acted upon by those in power.  To do this, your support is essential. Drawing inspiration from the four principles of the UNCRC, the UN Committee sets out how you can do this:

  • Educating children and young people about the environment and its threat
  • Ensuring children, young people and adults have access to information on climate change
  • Providing children and young people opportunities to make their views heard
  • Ensuring that decision makers are transparent in their decision making.
  • Ensuring children and young people are given feedback about their recommendations.
  • Establishing structures to aid enforcement of children’s rights laws.
  • Promoting children and young people’s access to justice in climate change issues.

Conclusion

Article 12 of the UNCRC ensures the right of every child to be heard and to participate in matters that affect them. Children and young people have demonstrated their ability to understand and inspire action for climate change. They know what it feels like to be most impacted by climate change and to have their views and contributions dismissed or ignored. Their involvement is central to their rights to a future and without their contributions, decisions on climate action will be missing a crucial part.


About the author

Mercy Tochukwu Christopher is Together’s Research and Events Intern. Before starting her internship at Together, Mercy completed a master’s programme in Human Rights at the University of Edinburgh where she presented a valuable webinar looking into legal and non-legal frameworks that can protect, respect and fulfil children’s right to a healthy environment; how to improve participation of children in environmental issues; and how to enhance children’s access to justice in environmental issues. You can find out more about this presentation here and learn more about Mercy here!

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