UN Committee on the Rights of the Child turns its back on climate change petition from Greta Thunberg and children from around the world
The Committee instructs the youth to each file claims in 5 countries, squander years in procedural delays, and then return to the UN after they’ve lost in national courts.
The message to children is “You’re on your own.”
October 11, 2021 (Washington, D.C.) – In a stunning decision, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the global human rights body tasked with protecting children’s rights, refused to hear the case of 16 youth from around the world who are threatened by the climate crisis. Represented by a team of human rights and environmental lawyers from Hausfeld and Earthjustice, the youth argued that five G20 countries—Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey—are violating their rights to life, health, and culture under the Convention on the Rights of the Child by failing to curb greenhouse gas emissions to levels that would limit global warming to 1.5°C, a target set by climate science and the Paris Agreement.
Today, the Committee delivered a rebuke to young people around the world who are demanding immediate action on the climate crisis. In dismissing the case, the Committee told children that climate change is a dire global emergency, but the UN’s doors are closed to them.
The petitioners won on several of the most challenging legal issues in climate litigation. The Committee accepted their arguments that states are legally responsible for the harmful effects of emissions originating in their territory on children outside their borders. The fact that all states are causing climate change, the Committee held, does not absolve states of individual responsibility to reduce their own share of emissions. The Committee also found that the youth are victims of foreseeable threats to their rights to life, health, and culture.
Yet this was a hollow victory. The Committee also held that the petitioners must first bring lawsuits in each of the five state’s national courts—despite tomes of case law and expert evidence showing that none of those cases would succeed. In the cases of Germany and Turkey, for example, the Committee disregarded national court decisions that would deny foreign nationals the right to bring environmental claims.
In effect, the Committee instructed the youth to squander years waiting for inevitable dismissal. For petitioner Litokne Kabua and other children from the Marshall Islands in the south Pacific, there is simply no time to file a climate change case in every state in the world that is fueling global warming: if emissions are not immediately reduced, the Marshall Islands will likely be submerged in the ocean within the children’s lifetime.
“I have no doubt this judgment will haunt the Committee in the future,” said petitioner Alexandria Villasenor. “When the climate disasters are even more severe than they are now, the Committee will severely regret not doing the right thing when they had the chance. Children are increasingly on the frontlines of the climate crisis, accounting for over 80% of climate related deaths. Yet again, the adults have failed to protect us.”
“We are going to continue to fight for pathways to justice for children staring down climate extinction,” said Scott Gilmore, lead counsel from global law firm Hausfeld. “The Committee acknowledged that states are legally obligated to act, that our clients’ lives are at risk, and that time is running out. But they still closed the UN’s doors. So be it. The legal battle for the climate now returns to national courts.”
“Once again, polluting states are given a free pass to perpetuate the climate crisis,” said co-lead counsel Ramin Pejan, Senior Attorney at environmental NGO Earthjustice. “Despite acknowledging that the 16 youths are already experiencing devastating impacts from climate change that will continue throughout their lifetime if immediate action is not taken, the Committee leaves them with no effective way to protect their rights.”
More responses from the youth:
Ayakha Melithafa (19, South Africa): I am disappointed with the Committee’s decision today, but also more determined than ever to use every platform available to me to keep fighting for my future. We are on the verge of an abyss and our political leaders must change course immediately - young people should not need to bring legal claims seeking to hold them to account for promises made. COP26 will take place in 20 days’ time, and governments must deliver action there that is of the scale and speed we need.
Catarina Lorenzo (14, Brazil): I am disappointed and worried. We have scientific proof that those countries are impacting our climate, and yet, this case was not accepted. We have our own stories to show how we are being impacted by the current climate change, and yet, the case was still not accepted. I am disappointed in the committee for not seeing this case as admissible in a moment in which we are desperate for real and effective action, as we are facing a crisis, the climate crisis.
Iris Duquesne (18, France): We are all very disappointed but unfortunately not surprised. We have seen governments and officials ignore the climate crisis over and over again and today was no exception. The fight for climate justice is not over, and we will keep pushing with or without the Committee’s help.
Liotke Kabua (18, Marshall Islands): It’s very unfortunate that the Committee declares the case as inadmissible. It seems very clear that they’re not willing to be responsible for the well-being of their future generations. We surely provided facts and examples that are true of the climate crisis affecting our lives, but in their very eyes, it’s nothing. However, this doesn’t stop our calls for climate action and a sustainable future, I strongly make it clear to all that there’s no point of return.
Raina Ivanova (16, Germany): I am frustrated, disappointed but most importantly I feel extremely left alone by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. As the UN body who is supposed to help uphold our right and hear us children when our rights are being violated, they have failed their task by declaring our case as inadmissible. Children’s rights are being violated by climate change which is why we, for the first time ever, made use of our right to complaint in front of the Committee. By turning down our complaint the Committee actively hindered us from demanding our right to life, health, culture and the consideration of our best interest as a primary point.
Read the Petitioners' stories.
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This material is distributed by Hausfeld LLP and Earthjustice on behalf of Environmental Youth Activists. Additional information is available at the Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.
Editor’s Notes: The CRC was uniquely positioned to hear this case, as it monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which protects children’s rights around the globe.
The Human Rights Treaty Bodies - Individual Communications FAQ states that “the ‘admissibility’ of a case refers to the formal requirements that a complaint must satisfy before the relevant Committee can consider its substance. The ‘merits’ of the case are the substance, on the basis of which the Committee decides whether or not the alleged victim's rights under a treaty have been violated.”