Climate change and children's rights
Climate change is a global threat to human rights with children bearing the brunt of its consequences. When several child climate activists from around the world sought advice as to how the legal system could address this existential problem, Hausfeld looked to the protections of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the world’s most widely ratified human rights treaty, as one possible mechanism to address a global problem on a global scale.
In 2019, when several child climate activists from around the world sought advice as to how the legal system could address this existential problem, Hausfeld looked to the protections of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the world’s most widely ratified human rights treaty, as one possible mechanism to address a global problem on a global scale.
Representing 16 child activists from 12 countries, Hausfeld partnered with co-counsel Earthjustice, an NGO with an extensive history advocating for global environmental justice, to craft an action before the Committee, under the fundamental right to life and a healthy environment. Fusing together international human rights and environmental law, Hausfeld developed a legal argument that five states—Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey—who are regional leaders and parties to the treaty, owe obligations to children inside and outside their borders to prevent the devastating consequences of their greenhouse gases.
The science of climate change is relatively well known, yet global policy and legal structures have not adequately responded to the threat and its disproportionate impact on children: the idea that climate change is a "children's rights crisis" became the organizing principle of the legal strategy Hausfeld put together.Michael Hausfeld, Chair Emeritus
The petitioners did not seek compensatory damages but rather asked the Committee to find that climate change is a children's rights crisis, and that the respondent states have caused and are perpetuating the crisis by disregarding available scientific evidence on prevention and mitigation. By way of relief sought, the petitioners asked that the Committee recommend the states to amend their laws and policies to ensure concrete mitigation and adaptation efforts that make the best interests of the child a primary consideration, establish international binding and enforceable measures to mitigate the climate crisis, and ensure the child's right to be heard in all such efforts.
In October 2021, the Committee rejected the petitions for failure to exhaust domestic remedies. However, the Committee then decided to host a series of offline and online consultations and workshops with the global community, including specific consultations with children and young people around the world, to inform a General Comment on children's rights and the environment with a particular focus on climate change, thus allowing for the potential of human rights litigation to contribute to possible future enforcement. The Committee received an overwhelming number of submissions from various states parties, human rights organizations, and civil society as part of their investigation, and they ultimately consulted over 16,000 children around the globe.
On May 26, 2023, Committee Chair Ann Skelton announced that the Committee has adopted General Comment No. 26 to be the authoritative guidance on how children’s rights are violated by the environmental crisis and what governments and others must do to uphold these rights. With the adoption of General Comment No. 26, the Committee has finally heeded the call by young people around the world to prioritize this issue as one of the most crucial concerns facing the future of all children and the world today. The General Comment addresses the rights that are already breached or under threat from environmental degradation and climate change. It also clarifies the obligation of Member States, and the role of the business sector, in upholding and protecting these rights. The General Comment also makes child-specific recommendations for mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, international cooperation, and climate finance.
The Comment seeks to call upon domestic courts to exercise jurisdiction to hold all State and non-State actors accountable, through binding and enforceable judgments, for their acts and omissions in violation of these children’s rights.
General Comment No. 26 is the Magna Carta of climate guidance identifying the binding obligation of States to provide, and the basic rights of children to have, a life-sustaining environment. There is no future for the Earth if there is no future for its children.Michael Hausfeld, Chair Emeritus
The Committee has listened to the call for accountability to begin and has now taken a major step to hold governments and private entities responsible for ensuring children live in a clean, green, healthy, and sustainable world. Hausfeld celebrates this important victory on behalf of all children across the globe and we remain committed to working to keep the world on a scientifically established path to sustainability.
Hausfeld continues to represent clients in impactful climate change work. On January 9, 2023, Colombia and Chile submitted a request for an advisory opinion to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Inter-American Court) under Article 64(1) of the American Convention on Human Rights, seeking clarification regarding the scope of States’ obligations—both collectively and individually—to respond to the climate emergency within the framework of international human rights law.
This request builds on a groundbreaking precedent for the region, Advisory Opinion OC-23/17, following a request from Colombia, in which the Inter-American Court recognized the justiciable right to a healthy environment.
The President of the Inter-American Court invited the presentation of amicus curiae briefs and established October 18, 2023, as the deadline to submit written observations to the Court.
Hausfeld is currently representing the Center for Human Rights and Environment (CHRE), and its joint program with the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD), Fast Action on Climate to Ensure Intergenerational Justice (FACE), in their amicus filing.
FACE is a youth-led initiative that focuses on climate and environmental justice as it relates to “fast action” climate mitigation strategies that aim to reduce short-lived climate pollutants and preserve carbon sinks, with the overall objective of preserving the planet for future generations.