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UN affirms children’s right to clean environment

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28 August 2023

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has today, for the first time, explicitly affirmed children’s right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. 

The authoritative guidance, published as General Comment 26, directs States on how to uphold these rights. This means New Zealand, as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, must take steps to fulfil these rights and report on progress to the Committee.  

“Children here in Aotearoa and around the world have been at the forefront of the battle against climate change, urging governments and all adults to step up and safeguard the planet and their future,” says Michelle Sharp, CEO of UNICEF Aotearoa. “This new General Comment clearly defines the rights of children in relation to the environment and reflects what children have been telling me: More climate action now.”  

The guidance requires Government to protect children’s rights from immediate harm, but also harm that could occur in the future based on a failure to act today – both within and beyond our own borders. 

It also requires Government to take preventive measures to protect children against foreseeable environmental harm and demands that children and young people be given a seat at the decision-making table. 

“As young people who will have to bear the impacts climate change, we have a right to be at the table when discussing climate action,” says 20-year-old UNICEF Aotearoa Young Ambassador Ceilidh Malo Sushilo Brown. “It often feels that we are overlooked and that we do not matter when discussing these big issues. We are the future, and we deserve a safe and sustainable planet to thrive on.” 

UNICEF Aotearoa is calling on Government to establish a child and youth climate advisory committee – a formal mechanism for young people’s diverse voices to feed into climate policy and action, in line with the newly released guidance. 

Further, the child-focussed organisation is urging Government to declare the climate crisis a children’s crisis in Parliament, and to join other contemporary countries in signing the Declaration on Children, Youth and Climate Action

“We have a responsibility to our children and young people to listen to their voices. As the group that’s least responsible but most impacted by climate change, the New Zealand Government must take urgent action to engage children and young people to hear their voices,” Sharp says. 

“We believe in a future where every child and young person can live safely and freely in a clean and accommodating natural environment with the opportunity to thrive. Taking these steps is a promise to future generations that their right to a habitable planet won’t be superseded by present day interests, and takes seriously young people’s pleas for greater action today,” she continued. 

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