Children on the front line – Climate change and the Rights of the Child

This article is written by Charlotte Blondel

“All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

On the 8th May 2017, the UNFCCC held its first ever technical meeting on the relation between climate change and children’s rights. Too long ignored in climate talks, these rights should be of primary concern for the States parties to the UNFCCC. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is one of the most largely ratified conventions in the world, with 196 parties. The Convention sets up substantive rights enjoyed by children and youth under the age of 18, in addition to human rights applicable to both children and adults. States parties to the Paris Agreement have also committed in December 2015 to address climate change taking into account « their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children (…) ».

Climate change impacts children in the most violent and unfair manner. No one is more vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change than the young ones. Pollution, malnutrition, forced displacements, particularly affect the mind and bodies of individuals at a stage of physical and mental development.

Consequences might be life-long ; malnutrition and disease fragilize the bodies for years, with effects not only on individual lifes, but also economic repercutions for entire countries. Climate change entails major risks on children’s health: the UNICEF estimates that around 500 millions children live in flood zones and that about 300 millons children live in areas where pollution is higher than what is deemed acceptable by the World Health Organizations. Additionnally, natural disasters and forced displacements caused by climate change create traumatic experiences for young people unprepared to experience them. Young girls are particularly threatened, as they might be subject to sexual violences or forms of slavery. In fact, almost all of children’s substantive rights are affected by climate change : their rights to live, to health, to housing, to education, to food, to freedom from discrimination, to an adequate standard of living. Climate change is also particularly unfair in its consequences : while  being the least responsible for climate degradation, children are, yet, the most affected by its effects. It also exacerbates world’s disparities, creating an existential threat to indigenous children and those part of already vulnerable communities.

Children not only have substantive rights, they do also have procedural one. They are not only a legacy to be protected, they are also actors of change.  The post-Paris agenda  must focus on education as a main channel to empowering children. Indeed, ensuring an  education access to  children all over the world, both girls and boys, will provide the next generation with powerful tools to tackling the multiples challenges related to climate change.Yet, the youngest are too often ignored in negotiations, even if they do have rights to information and participation. The UNICEF, the Office of the High Commissionner for Human Rights (Resolution 35/13), but also the Fiji Presidency of the COP23 are very clear : structures must be developed to include children in national and international decision-making processes.

The situation of children in the midst of climate change is particularly concerning. It is a legal obligation for States parties to the UNFCCC to include children’s rights at the core of their climate policies, therefore adopting a rights-based approach in the implementation of the Paris Agreement. It is also a moral obligation for all of us to safeguard and support the youngest, for climate change threatens most those who can least afford it. It is our responsibility to preserve the essence of childhood. Don’t take away children’s dreams. Be the hero of tomorrow’s generation.

About the author: Charlotte Blondel is currently completing her master degree in International Law within the Global Alliance Program between Columbia University, Sciences Po Paris and Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. She holds a dual bachelor in Political Sciences and History from Sciences Po Paris and Paris IV Paris-Sorbonne. Her studies brought her to Berkeley, California, for an exchange year, as well as New York during her master program. She has been working with refugees and asylum seekers within the association France Terre d’Asile. She has also been an active member of CliMates since 2015. In January 2016, she launched the Youth on the Move initiative along with Marine Denis. She speaks French, English and Spanish and is currently learning Arabic!

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