Climate justice is a concept which recognises that climate change affects children and young people today and in the future.

It makes it clear that environmental issues directly impact many of their human rights, both within the UNCRC and beyond.

With the UN’s annual climate change conference COP26 coming to Glasgow later this year, it’s an issue that’s on a lot of people’s minds here in Scotland.

And children and young people are leading calls for climate justice. Their rights need protecting when they speak up about climate change and act as child human rights defenders.

They have the right to be involved in all decisions that affect them.

And that means the Scottish Government needs to involve them in decision-making― on a net zero nation, climate change, and just transition.

The UNCRC is soon to be incorporated in Scotland. Meaningful engagement with children and young people around climate justice needs to be a part of that: it’s something the Scottish Government must commit to. We want to see them establish a clear link between implementation of the UNCRC and evidence of meaningful engagement with children and young people.

A:

The UNCRC is one of the few human rights instruments that directly says there are promises that States have to keep around the environment.

Where is the environment directly mentioned in the UNCRC?

Article 24

Article 24 of the UNCRC says that children and young people have the right to the best health possible.

As part of that, it says that States should think about the dangers and risks of environmental pollution when they take steps to combat disease and malnutrition.

Article 29


Article 29 of the UNCRC is about the aims of education. It says that one of these is to make sure children and young people develop respect for the natural environment.

What are some other rights impacted by the environment?

In 2016 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child held a Day of General Discussion around children’s rights and the environment. You can read the report of the Day here.

This report says that many more articles of the UNCRC are impacted by damage to the environment, even if this isn’t directly stated in the Convention’s text. These include:

  • the right to non-discrimination set out in Article 2,
  • the general principles of the rights to life, survival and development set out in Article 6,
  • the right to an identity set out in Article 8,
  • the right to be heard set out in Article 12,
  • the rights to freedom of expression and information set out in Articles 13 and 17,
  • the rights to protection from all forms of violence and to physical and mental integrity set out in Article 19,
  • the rights to food, water, sanitation and housing set out in Articles 24 and 27,
  • the right to education set out in Article 28,
  • the rights to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and the arts set out in Article 31,
  • the right to freedom from exploitation set out in Article 32,
  • the right to an adequate standard of living set out in Article 37.

A new general comment on the environment

In June 2021, the Committee on the Rights of the Child committed to creating a new General Comment around the environment, which will have a special focus on climate change.

A:

The UN’s annual climate change conference, COP26, will be held in Glasgow later this year.

COP stands for Conference of the Parties, and this will be the 26th one to happen.

What does “Conference of the Parties” mean?

A Party is a State that’s signed up to a particular international law. In this case, it’s the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

So at a Conference of the Parties these States take part in talks and negotiations around this Convention, other agreements, and solutions to climate change.

How can we protect and empower child human rights defenders when they stand up for the environment?

Respect peaceful protest as a child’s human right

Child human rights defenders are entitled to the same protections adults have, as well as additional protections due to their age.

And these protections are found in a number of different places:

Human rights defenders of all ages are further protected by the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms― which the UK has signed up to.

And the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stresses the importance of state protection for environmental activists. In its report on the 2016 Day of General Discussion on Children’s Rights and the Environment, it says that:

  • States should provide a safe and enabling environment for activists defending environmental rights, and
  • States owe a heightened duty of care to activists below the age of 18.

Make sure children don’t face reprisals for peaceful protest

Human rights defenders shouldn’t face reprisals for peaceful protest, no matter what their age.

That means that schools shouldn’t punish children and young people for taking part in them. They shouldn’t face detention, or a reduction in their grades.

Make sure children and young people can take action when their rights aren’t respected

We want to see a world where it’s easier for child human rights defenders to defend themselves.

At the moment, when they face violence and intimidation, they can find it hard to report it or take legal action.

So we want it to be clear to children and young people how they can take action when this happens to them― and for it to be clear how they can seek legal remedy if they need to.

What is our office doing around climate justice?

Later this year, COP 26 – the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference – is coming to Glasgow. It’s a big focus of work around climate justice, which is collected below.

Policy work around climate justice

Are your rights protected during protest?

Like everyone else, children and young people have the right to freedom of association and the right to peaceful assembly. When they take part in peaceful protest, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders applies to them as much as it does to adults— and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s General Comment 25 is clear that their rights still have force in the online world.

A law student is currently working with us to research these protections. She’s also talking to young people who’ve spoken up about climate justice – online and offline – and will use her findings to create a report for us on how well these rights are protected in Scotland and what more can be done to support young climate defenders.