General Comment No. 26 on children’s environmental rights

By now it is official: children do have a right to a healthy environment, and the United Nations must take measures to guarantee this right worldwide. This marks one of the largest child participation processes in the history of the United Nations, involving 12 “Child Advisors” for the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, along with contributions, comments and feedback from 16,331 children from 121 countries.

 The widespread participation of children worldwide underscores their concern for environmental protection, climate change and the future of coming generations. On the 18th of September, after 18 months of preparation, the General Comment No. 26 was presented- an official legal assessment emphasizing that climate and environmental damage can no longer be ignored.

The document specifies what the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child means for each individual   child, emphasizing two key aspects: that future generations also have rights, and states are not only responsible for stopping current violations of children’s rights but also for preventing future violations due to their actions or inactions today. Moreover, countries can be held accountable not only for environmental and climate damage within their borders but also outside their territory.

With General Comment No. 26, children and youth can now invoke the international legal order of the United Nations to demand the protection of their environment, health, and livelihoods. The “Child Advisors”, representing different countries, actively participated in developing the document and were present during its presentation.

Two of them are part of the Dialogue Works Committees, Elisabeth and Esmeralda, who come from Rwanda and Peru. They have been working intensively on climate change and have summarised their impressions and assessments in a video in English and Spanish:

The presentation of the General Comment No. 26 was accompanied by events and environmental campaigns by children worldwide. After the launch event, the Committee members and Child Advisors planted a tree in the city of Geneva, symbolically heralding the start of the next phase for children’s right to a healthy environment.

The Committee members and Child Advisors plant a tree together in the City of Geneva. © Magali Girardin / Ville de Genève

In addition to the official comment, the demands of thousands of children and youth were summed up into five key demands to adults:

1.       Awareness raising and environmental education

2.       A clean and healthy environment

3.       To be listened to, taken seriously and play a role in environmental action

4.       Clear and transparent actions from governments, corporations and all adults

5.       Cooperation across countries and regions of the world

6.       Spaces to share their ideas for potential solutions