Climate change: a grave threat to children and their rights

Today, millions of people around the world are striking in support of climate change action. While people of all ages are taking part, young people are at the forefront of this movement, demanding that world leaders do better. These children and youth are exercising their right to participate in an issue that will affect them for years to come.

It’s not a surprise to us at Save the Children that young people, such as teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg and International Children’s Peace Prize nominee Autumn Peltier from Manitoulin Island, are at the forefront of climate change action. Children and youth are particularly vulnerable to climate change because of their age: they will be affected by increasing harm to the environment over time. Furthermore, as adults, we are violating their rights when we choose to put short-term economic interests before their rights to develop to their full potential. In fact, Greta and 15 young people filed a complaint with the United Nations earlier this week alleging that five of the world’s major economies have violated their human rights by not taking adequate action to stop the unfolding climate crisis.

The 193 countries who have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child have a legally bound responsibility to take action on climate change to ensure it does not infringe on child rights. These obligations relate to international conventions, as well as domestic law. In Canada, children and youth are increasingly recognizing that failure to do anything on climate change is a violation of their rights.

In November 2018, an application was filed in Quebec arguing that young peoples’ rights are infringed upon by government inaction on climate change. The group, called Environment Jeunesse, say that these infringements fall under section 7 of the Charter (young people’s right to life and security of the person), and section 15 (equality rights). In June 2019, the Appeal Court in Ontario rejected the provincial government’s arguments that a federal carbon price was an infringement onto provincial jurisdiction. And now, in September 2019, children, youth and adult allies across the country are striking to draw attention to the climate crisis that is unfolding before our eyes.

In Canada and around the world, Save the Children works every day to give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. When crisis strikes, and children are most vulnerable, we are often the first to respond and the last to leave. We ensure children’s unique needs are met and their voices are heard. We deliver lasting results for millions of children, including those hardest to reach. We know that our work is intricately connected to a healthy planet.

Children and youth lead this global climate movement and are using their right to speak up.  At Save the Children, we support children in the global strike for the climate and recognizes the legitimacy and power of their voice and leadership in the climate movement. Children have contributed the least to the climate crisis, and yet we know that they are paying the highest price.

Climate change is a justice issue. With the effects of climate change happening now, we know that people’s human rights are being violated. Children and young people have ideas about how to combat climate change. During this week of Climate Action, Save the Children is listening to the millions of children here and around the world who are protesting for change.

By: Kate Butler, Child Rights & Protection Advisor at Save the Children Canada