In the past few decades, environmental degradation has risen at an unprecedented rate. According to the available scientific data, the vast majority of causes of environmental degradation are initiated by humans, which implies that the risks of environmental degradation as well as environmental degradation itself are preventable and avoidable. Although environmental degradation affects us all, research suggests that children disproportionally suffer most as a result of it.
The International Children's Peace Prize is awarded annually to an exceptional child for improving children’s rights worldwide. On 2 December 2016, Kehkashan Basu from the United Arab Emirates was presented with this prestigious award in The Hague for her fight for climate justice and environmental protection. In honour of the 2016 International Children’s Peace Prize winner, the Child Law Department of Leiden Law School produced a research report on children’s rights and the environment- Cleaning up the Mess - Children’s Rights and Environmental Protection. The Report represents a valuable contribution in the field of the rights of the child and the environmental arena. It focuses on the relationship between the environment and the rights of the child, exploring the impact of environmental degradation on children’s rights; how the environmental rights of the child are embedded in the CRC; and the interaction between environmental rights and children’s rights. The report is divided into four chapters.
Chapter 1 of the Report is an introductory chapter that provides an overview of the main issues relating to children and the environment. Chapter 2 examines the correlation between environmental degradation and children’s well-being. It concludes that there is an inextricable link between children’s rights and the environment - a good quality, healthy environment is a precondition for the realization of the rights of the child, while the realization of the rights of the child is a precondition for successful and efficient environmental protection. Chapter 3 of the Report zooms in on the rights of the child and the environment. In this chapter, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is analyzed from the environmental perspective, as well as the CRC’s relevance for the development of the international sustainable development and environmental framework. Although the CRC does not recognise environmental rights of the child as such, it stipulates enforceable obligations for states regarding the environmental rights of children and the protection of children against environmental degradation. It identifies an associated infrastructure through which the implementation of the Convention can be monitored and stimulated, and particularly the role of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. As the realization of the rights of the child are considered both an end and a means for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the CRC Committee could have an important role in actively bridging the rights of the child with the SDGs in relation to the environment. Finally, the chapter examines from the perspective of children’s rights the two most pressing environmental issues that have some of the most devastating consequences on children’s well-being and rights - climate change and energy. Although not considered environmental issues as such, special focus is given to the access to information, participation and access to justice in environmental matters as they are essential for the realization of the rights of the child and environmental protection. Furthermore, the Report reflects on three groundbreaking court cases: the Minora Oposa Case in the Philippines that demonstrates how protection of the rights of the child contributes to the protection of the environment, and how limitation of children’s access to ecosystem services and the ecosystem constitutes a violation of the rights of the child; the Urgenda Climate Case in the Netherlands that showcased the intersection between greenhouse emissions and the protection of human rights, and children’s rights specifically; and the ongoing children’s climate lawsuit in Oregon that argues that environmental degradation contributes to a violation of the rights of the child, and especially right to life, health and other rights.
The Report concludes with a set of recommendation with regard to children’s rights and the environment. In order to address the identified challenges, the Report calls for:
- The adoption of a General Comment on the Rights of the Child and the Environment that would interpret the rights of the child from an environmental perspective;
- The adoption of a Fourth Optional Protocol to the CRC recognising the environmental rights of the child, especially the right to a healthy environment and to energy;
- Improvement of access for children to environmental information and ecosystem services and benefits. The Report recommends enhancing participation of children in environmental decision-making at all levels and enabling effective access to justice for all children in environmental matters;
- Mainstreaming of children’s rights in environmental law, policy and activities, especially in climate change and energy law and policy;
- Better collection of data and indicators for the implementation of SDGs especially with regard to children that will ensure that no child is left behind in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development.
Overall, the Report highlights some of the main issues regarding children and the environment, and underlines that environmental degradation does not only reflect attitudes towards our surroundings that we depend on, but that it is also an issue of justice, particularly how we structure society towards children.