What is the issue?
It goes without saying that humans cannot live and have rights if there is no planet to live on. A clean environment is therefore essential for human health and well being, but human activity causing environmental degradation is compromising the air, water and soil we need to live. Pollution, rising air temperatures and sea levels, deforestation, unsustainable agricultural and fishing practices, destruction of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity, and overpopulation and overconsumption are profoundly affecting the quality of life of current generations. If these problems continue, their effect will impact future generations too.
While these are issues that in one way or another affect all humans, it is children who are particularly susceptible to the adverse effects of environmental harm. This is because exposure occurs during sensitive periods of development, namely infancy, childhood and adolescence. What’s more, their young age means they will have to live with any consequences for longer.
What needs to change?
The survival of our planet relies on the political will to combat the causes of environmental degradation and resource depletion. This not only entails tackling issues like financial greed and corruption which lead to the unethical, unregulated and unsustainable consumption of natural resources; it also means changing our ways. Fundamentally, the planet is not ours to own or do with it as we wish; it is our responsibility to act as custodians and preserve the planet so that future generations can enjoy it too. To this end, humanity’s relationship with the environment needs to change.
A rights-based approach to the environment can ensure this. This does not mean giving rights to the environment itself; but making sure States prevent actions that lead to environmental harm on the basis that this harm interferes with their citizens’ human rights. States have legal obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, which include the right to life, development, health, food, water, education, culture, play and many more.
Our work on environmental issues has so far has focused on providing a children’s rights perspective to:
Report: Children’s rights and the environment - UN, 2016
UN submission: Environmental harm and children’s access to justice - CRIN, 2016
UN submission: Children’s participation and environmental education - CRIN, 2017
UN submission: Draft guidelines on human rights and the environment - CRIN, 2017