Countries must provide a clean and healthy environment for children: UN

Lucia Vazquez/ABC News

(NEW YORK) — A United Nations committee strengthened a treaty on Monday on children’s rights in their fight against climate change, according to new guidance from the organization.

Countries should work to safeguard a clean, healthy and sustainable environment for children around the world as climate change becomes a growing issue, the U.N. said.

Children around the world are facing a systemic threat by a triple planetary crisis, consisting of the climate emergency, collapse of biodiversity and widespread pollution, the Committee on the Rights of the Child said in a report.

“The unsustainable extraction and use of natural resources, combined with widespread contamination through pollution and waste, have had a profound impact on the natural environment, fueling climate change, intensifying the toxic pollution of water, air and soil, causing ocean acidification and devastating biodiversity and the very ecosystems that sustain all life,” the committee said in its report.

Countries should also work to protect children’s rights from sudden harm and from future abuses of their rights stemming from not only their current actions but inaction, according to the committee.

“With its General Comment No. 26, the Committee on the Rights of the Child not only echoes and amplifies children’s voices, but also clearly defines the rights of children in relation to the environment that States Parties should respect, protect and fulfill collectively and urgently,” committee member Philip Jaffé said in the report.

Children from around the world have been leading the fight against the effects of climate change and have asked governments and businesses to ensure they have a safe future, according to Jaffé.

The committee said that children advocating for human rights and ecological protections, as well as their demands for a healthy environment, should be acknowledged.

The committee said the motivation behind the recent decision was in part due to a meeting in 2016 where 16,000 children from 121 countries took part in discussions on their rights and the environmental crisis.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child said that the climate crisis is “a form of structural violence against children” that can lead to societal collapse within communities.

Some actions that countries should immediately take, according to the U.N. committee, include improving air quality by reducing both outdoor and household air pollution; guaranteeing access to safe water practices to prevent the spread of waterborne illnesses in children; and to phase out the use of coal and natural gases.

Earlier this month in the U.S., a group of young people from Montana won a major climate case after arguing the state failed to protect their right to a clean environment by continuing to use fossil fuels.

The ruling determined that a provision in Montana’s Environmental Policy Act violated the right to a clean environment, which is guaranteed under Montana’s state constitution, by promoting the continued use of fossil fuels.

“The climate crisis is a child rights crisis,” UNICEF Special Adviser on Advocacy for Child Rights and Climate Action Paloma Escudero said, according to the U.N.

“Every government has an obligation to protect the rights of every child in every corner of the planet, especially those boys and girls living in countries that have contributed least to this problem but are enduring the most dangerous floods, droughts, storms and heat,” Escudero said.

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