Climate change – why a children’s rights perspective matters

Climate change is not only about weather. Climate change is about people, their rights and future. A truly global challenge of our time.

The world is struggling with huge problems like poverty eradication, conflict and discrimination. The majority of people living on Earth still lack decent conditions of life and protection of their fundamental rights. How can climate change matter? How can the rights of future generations become a priority?

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Perhaps there will always be challenges considered more immediate. But what if we start interpreting climate change as a global phenomenon of inter-generational justice? Action, or better, inaction, becomes a form of injustice which feeds on and perpetuates inequality, and forces those who are least responsible to pay the highest price: in decades to come. Future generations will have no choice but to swallow whole the injustices of current generations towards them.

Climate change should be forcing us to balance the rights and claims of persons living today against those of persons in the future. The ethical construct of inter-generational justice could help us find answers for some of the most pressing questions about governance of resources, the rights of children and environmental sustainability. The new report The Challenges of Climate Change: Children on the Front Line published by the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, contains an illuminating discussion which could help us approach the defining issue of our times.

Climate change challenges children’s rights by threatening their fundamental condition: our planet. Human action is putting a strain on planetary boundaries, without being able to predict with certainty the final consequences for the generations yet unborn. In a world where the world itself is at risk, perhaps inter-generational justice is an idea whose time has come.

Forecasts do not allow any reasonable prediction beyond 2100. Sceptics may say that it is too far in the future for concern today. From a children’s rights perspective; however, minimizing that degree of uncertainty is the ultimate reason for struggling every day for their full recognition and realization. Children are the largest and most vulnerable group to the effects of climate change.

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Join in the conversation on climate change and its impact children, on social media with #right2Bcool.

Experts say that more than 80 percent of climate-related deaths in developing countries are among children. Most of their rights are threatened every time a new disaster occurs. Putting in place child-centred mitigation and adaptation measures is certainly a good way of responding, but taking a child rights point of view also implies broadening the perspective from the immediate present to the distant future.

There is also another good reason to frame climate change as a child rights issue. If we accept the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s assertion that children are holders of rights, we must accept that children become partners of critical importance in understanding and acting on climate change issues in their communities and in coping with its challenges. They can be actors for global change in the way we treat our environment, manage resources and set the foundations for future human society.

Children and young people today constitute the generation that will be required to deliver the very deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that will be essential in the coming decades. Yet they are a constituency that has been effectively ignored when it comes to high-level climate discussions.

Patrizia Faustini is a Senior Communication Assistant, UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti

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