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Kids entitled to clean, healthy environment: UN committee

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HOLDING STATES ACCOUNTABLE

The new analysis could provide a new and powerful tool for young people seeking to bring such cases, committee chair Ann Skelton told AFP.

“Children themselves can use this instrument to encourage states to do the right thing, and ultimately to help to hold them accountable,” she said.

The new guidance, she said, “is of great and far-reaching legal significance”.

The 1989 convention does not explicitly spell out the rights of children to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment – but the committee argued the right was implicit and directly linked to a long line of guaranteed rights, including the right to life, survival and development.

“The extent and magnitude of the triple planetary crisis, comprising the climate emergency, the collapse of biodiversity and pervasive pollution, is an urgent and systemic threat to children’s rights globally,” the UN committee said in its so-called general comment.

To reach its conclusions, the panel said it had consulted with governments, civil society and especially children.

More than 16,000 children of all ages across 121 countries provided comments, describing the negative effects of environmental degradation and climate change on their lives and communities.

“Our voices matter, and they deserve to be listened to,” said a 17-year-old climate and child rights activist from India, named only as Kartik.

The new committee guidance “will help us understand and exercise our rights in the face of the environmental and climate crisis”, he said in a statement.

The committee’s findings are far-reaching, determining that the convention prohibits states from causing environmental harm that violates children’s rights.

“States must ensure that children’s voices are brought to the table when big decisions are being made,” Skelton said, adding that countries also needed to “make sure that businesses are toeing the line”.

Going forward, the committee could be called upon to determine if countries were properly regulating commercial activities in this area.

The convention also requires countries to work to reduce emissions and “mitigate climate change in order to fulfil their obligations”, the committee said, stressing children’s rights to protest against practices harming the environment.

Skelton said the committee had been inspired by children stepping up and “taking on the obligation to protect the environment, for themselves, but also for future generations”.

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