Hausfeld Joins the UN CRC to call on Member States to take action after the First Guidance on Children's Rights and the Environment, with a focus on climate change, is issued
Washington, D.C., New York (August 28, 2023) – Global litigation firm Hausfeld joins the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (“the Committee”) to celebrate the release of the first guidance on children's rights and the environment, with a focus on climate change, General Comment on Children’s Rights and the Environment with a Special Focus on Climate Change (“General Comment No. 26”), and the call for Member States to take action in response.
Today, the Committee published General Comment No. 26, an authoritative guidance to Member States on what they must do to uphold children’s rights to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. In the face of the deepening climate crisis, the Committee specified obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child for Member States to be held accountable for their actions, or failures to act, in protecting children from immediate and future harms related to climate change.
Climate change is a global threat to human rights, with children bearing the brunt of its consequences. 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” said 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,” said Michael Hausfeld, Chair Emeritus.
The Committee will hold an official launch of General Comment No. 26 during its next session on September 18, 2023 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
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. Should you have any questions or would like to discuss what this means for the future, please reach out to us.
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Notes to Editors
Child-friendly versions of General Comment No. 26 will be published on September 18, 2023 as part of the official launch of the General Comment during the Committee’s forthcoming session in Geneva, Switzerland.
Hausfeld is a leading global law firm with offices in Berlin, Boston, Brussels, Düsseldorf, London, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Stockholm, and Washington, DC. The firm has a broad range of complex litigation expertise, particularly in antitrust/competition, financial services, sports and entertainment, environmental, mass torts, consumer protection, and human rights matters, often with an international dimension. Hausfeld aims to achieve the best possible results for clients through its practical and commercial approach, avoiding litigation where feasible, yet litigating robustly when necessary. Hausfeld’s extensive experience with alternative and innovative fee models offers clients a diverse menu of engagement options and maximum flexibility in terms of managing their cost exposure.
Hausfeld is the only claimants’ firm to be ranked by The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners as a top tier firm in private enforcement of antitrust/competition law in both the United States and Europe. Additionally, the firm has National Tier 1 Rankings in “Best Law Firms” in Antitrust and Litigation-Antitrust. For more information about the firm, including recent trial victories and landmark settlements, please visit www.hausfeld.com.