The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, is the global treaty outlining the human rights of the child. The Convention is ratified by all countries, except one, making it the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. “States parties” to the Convention, the ones that have ratified it, have the obligation under international law to implement the treaty within their countries.
Every human rights treaty has a group of experts or a “Treaty Body” that monitors State parties implementation of that treaty. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the Treaty Body for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which is made up of 18 independent experts responsible for ensuring State parties fulfill their obligations to the convention.
It is not always clear what steps States have to take to implement certain provisions included in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This is why the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child writes General Comments or an authoritative interpretation of the UNCRC that describes in detail how children’s rights are impacted as a result of a particular issue and spell out what States must do to uphold and defend these rights. The committee has adopted 25 General Comments including on the topics of health, business and migration. The environmental rights General Comment is No. 26.
The achievement of the General Comment on child rights, the environment and climate change is the result of years of hard work across sectors and stakeholders, and especially, among children and young people. In 2016, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) organized a global conference to draw attention to the relationship between children’s rights and the environment. It was the first time the two topics were linked in such a clear manner at the international level. Since, the CRC and other actors have undertaken steps to clarify the meaning of children’s environmental rights and the corresponding obligations of States to realize this right. The Committee now thinks the time is ripe to bring all the existing knowledge about the topic together and develop recommendations that will help to protect the environment for the benefit of children and all future generations.
A General Comment on child rights, the environment and climate change can have a significant impact for children worldwide. By highlighting the connection between children’s rights and the environmental crisis and States responsibilities to uphold children’s rights, it can be used to inform States and local authorities activities, including policies and programs. For example, it can serve as a reference for the way international environmental agreements (e.g. the Paris Climate agreement) are implemented. The General Comment can also be applied to the work of various stakeholders, such as UN organizations like UNICEF and UNEP and grassroots organizations.
In the end, the strength of the General Comment depends on the willingness of States to use it and of all other actors (NGOs, children and youth etc.) to advocate for it and draw attention to its relevance. For example, environmental and child rights defenders can use it to call on States to take certain steps or control their actions and hold them accountable.
The General Comment will be informed by the collective, from human rights institutions, Indigenous People organizations to United Nations agencies. Most importantly, it will be shaped by children and young people, especially from communities most impacted by the environmental crisis.
The process will be led by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) with the support of an Advisory Team – including children and young people, terre des hommes and other key partner organizations that will manage the 1.5 year or more drafting process.
A series of in-depth consultations and workshops, taking place from December 2021 – 2023, will be held to make sure everyone can contribute and all perspectives are considered in the drafting of the General Comment. They will include a diversity of stakeholders, especially children, young people and communities most impacted by the environmental crisis. The first set of consultations will inform the creation of the General Comment first draft, while the second will request feedback on the first draft. The final version of the General Comment will launch in 2023.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), a child means every human being below the age of 18 years. Across our work for General Comment No. 26, we use the phrase “children and young people”, recognising that older children often refer to themselves as young people, but this still refers to all those under the age of 18.