UN panel supports activists’ right to sue nations over climate

UN panel supports activists’ right to sue nations over climate

A UN group of experts has endorsed the efforts of young climate activists who are using legal means to hold their governments accountable for inadequate action against climate pollution.

Known as the Committee on the Rights of the Child, these experts recently published a comprehensive 20-page document endorsing the legal initiatives of these young environmental advocates.

In the document, the committee stated that each nation has a responsibility to protect children from environmental harm, including regulating business operations. 

The document supports the right of minors to seek legal solutions for environmental concerns.

While the committee’s viewpoint is not legally binding, its significance comes from its alignment with the universally ratified Convention on the Rights of the Child.

With the exception of the United States, nearly all countries adhere to this convention. Courts in different jurisdictions have cited the committee’s interpretations to guide their rulings.

At the core of the committee’s argument lies the basic entitlement of children to a clean and sustainable environment. 

The committee posits that this right is inherent in the convention and closely tied to foundational rights such as the right to life, survival, and development.

Comprising 18 independent legal experts appointed by their respective countries within the United Nations, the committee includes lawyers and law professors from diverse nations, including Barbados, Morocco, and South Africa.

Commenting on the committee’s pronouncement, Michael B. Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, noted that this declaration supplements the evolving body of international human rights law related to climate change.

The committee emphasized that countries have a responsibility to safeguard children from the impacts of climate pollution now and in the future. 

They underlined that nations hold the responsibility for foreseeable environment-related threats arising due to their actions or lack thereof, even if the consequences might not emerge for several years or decades.

In 2019, climate activists attempted to secure a more definitive judgment from the committee but were unsuccessful. 

Sixteen children filed a petition against five countries – Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey – claiming that their fossil fuel emissions violated the rights of children in other nations. 

The committee ruled in 2021 that the petitioners should first seek resolution through their national courts.

Urging nations to take immediate action, the committee recommended reduction of coal, oil, and natural gas, investing in renewable energy, enhancing air quality, curbing marine pollution, and preserving biodiversity. 

The committee advocated for children’s right to engage in class-action suits and public interest litigation.


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