The Global Climate Crisis: A child rights crisis

Climate change arguably poses the single greatest challenge to the realisation of children’s rights, and threatens to undercut decades of hard-won progress to improve their lives.

Despite being least responsible for this unfolding crisis, children bear the brunt of the climate-related impacts, while possessing the fewest resources to respond and cope. At its core, climate change represents a shocking abdication of one generation’s responsibility to the next, violating principles of intergenerational equity. Drought, flooding, extreme weather events, rising temperatures, and desertification directly undermine a broad spectrum of children’s rights, from access to food and safe water, to housing, education, freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse, and – too frequently – their right to survive and thrive. Moreover, because resilience to climate change is shaped by broader socio-economic factors, such as gender inequality and poverty, the situation is particularly fraught for marginalised girls and other highly-vulnerable groups of children, compounding the multiple hardships that they face.

Tackling climate change demands urgent attention to equity, across borders and generations. The countries that have contributed least to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere tend to be the most vulnerable and to have limited capacity for adaptation. Because they also tend to have proportionately large and rapidly-growing child populations, their vulnerability to climate change puts ever-greater numbers of children at risk.

Despite the catastrophic implications for children’s rights posed by climate change, as well as the growing global movement of children and youth calling for ambitious climate action, recognition of children’s rights barely feature in key international, regional and national decision-making frameworks related to climate change, including the Paris Agreement and workstreams under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as well as the SDGs. This oversight is a violation of the guiding principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC), notably that the best interest of the child – as well as their right to be heard – should be primary considerations in any decision that affects them.

Published 2020-01-21

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