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UN Convention on Rights of Child ratified with air quality addition

Today marks the publication of General Comment 26 – new guidance relating for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – which includes air quality for the first time.

a room filled with lots of tables covered in signs

The Convention – ratified by 196 states – was created in 1989, outlining universal children’s rights such as the right to life, survival and development, and the right to health.

A General Comment provides legal guidance on what these rights imply for a specific topic or area of legislation. The now published General Comment No. 26 on children’s rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change, explicitly addresses the climate emergency, the collapse of biodiversity and pervasive pollution; outlining measures to protect the lives and life perspectives of children.

The Comment was initiated by the international child rights organisation Terre des Hommes, and co-created with expert advisors, including 12 child advisors from different countries. Behind this was the input of tens of thousands of children from across 121 countries, including those most affected by the environmental and climate crises.

Some of the children’s comments are quoted in the Comment:

  • ‘The environment is our life.’
  • ‘Adults [should] stop making decisions for the future they won’t experience. [We] are the key means [of] solving climate change, as it is [our] lives at stake.’
  • ‘I would like to tell [adults] that we are the future generations and, if you destroy the planet, where will we live?!’

The General Comment specifies that States are responsible not only for protecting children’s rights from immediate harm, but also for foreseeable violations of their rights in the future due to action, or inaction, today.

The guidance states that children’s views must be considered in environmental decision-making and stresses the critical role of environmental education in preparing children to take action, advocate, and protect themselves from environmental harm.

In his speech at the launch event, Joshua Hofert, Executive Director of terre des hommes Germany, said: ‘Today is a good day for children – and for our planet. By recognising children’s environmental rights, the Committee underscores that those responsible for climate and environmental damage violate children’s rights. States must listen to children’s and young people’s demands. They must stop making decisions at their expense. They must take action.’

Mikiko Otani, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child said: ‘I echo the urgent call of children and young people for climate justice. Your voices matter and must be seriously taken into account by States.

‘It is my hope that the General Comment No. 26 will serve as an impetus for global and national level change by providing authoritative guidance to States on ensuring a child rights-based approach to addressing the environmental and climate crisis.’

Child Advisor Aniva, 17, from the Pacific Islands, highlights: ‘Our participation and input to the development of GC26 have been crucial. The Committee has heard directly from children and they understand how environmental harm and climate change are impacting us from a first-hand perspective. The children of the world are calling for action. We demand that governments address the climate crisis now.’

Hannah Battram, Senior Manager of Clean Air for Children at Global Action Plan, commented: ‘Seeing clean air recognised as a child’s right through General Comment 26 is a fantastic step forward. The efforts of these young people – together with their coalition of supporters and hundreds of other campaigners from around the world – have helped elevate this critical issue and will help protect children from the devastating impacts that air pollution has on their health and wellbeing.’

More on air pollution legislation: 

Clean Air Day 2023: Smog, lies and Villiers

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