Climate Crisis: How States May Be Held Responsible For Impact On Children

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has determined that a government can, in theory, be held to account for the impact its country’s carbon emissions have on its children, both within and outside of its borders. This is in response to a complaint filed in September 2019 by youth climate activists, including Greta Thunberg. The petition alleged that, by failing to reduce carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, five nations—Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey—were violating their rights to life, to health and to culture, as guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Thunberg explained that these countries were named for illustrative purposes: they are the highest emitters to have ratified the complaints mechanism of the CRC. However, instead of engaging with these specific claims, and determining what specific responsibilities governments might bear as a result, the committee ruled only on a theoretical level. States, it ruled, bear cross-border responsibility towards children for failing mitigate the climate crisis. This case was the first to be taken by a group of children to a UN body. But while the ruling does mark a milestone in international law, the claimants are right to be disappointed with the outcome. This is a missed opportunity. In refusing to engage with their specific claims, the committee has proven unwilling to ensure that human rights procedures match the urgency of the climate crisis.

by Aoife Daly, The Conversation/ October 20, 2021.

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