On September 18, 2023, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, of which Dr. Velina Todorova, a member of the National Children’s Network’s Legal Aid Network, is a part, presented its General Comment No. 26, dedicated to children’s climate rights.
The General Comment provides guidelines for the 196 countries that ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including Bulgaria, on the measures they should take to uphold children’s right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. The comment was prompted by the extraordinary climate situation, pollution, and biodiversity loss worldwide.
During the 11-month preparation for drafting the General Comment, the Committee consulted with 16,331 children from 121 countries, making the adoption of the General Comment one of the most child-inclusive consultative processes in UN history.
General Comment No. 26 specifies that states are responsible not only for protecting children’s rights from immediate harm but also for any foreseeable breaches of children’s climate rights in the future, resulting from current actions or inactions. The Committee emphasizes that states can be held accountable not only for environmental damages occurring within their borders but also for harmful impacts, environmental damages, and climate changes caused outside their borders. The Committee pays special attention to the disproportionate harm faced by children in vulnerable situations.
The Committee calls on the ratifying countries to take immediate actions to protect children’s environmental rights – including phasing out the exploitation of coal, oil, and natural gas and transitioning to renewable energy sources; improving air quality and ensuring access to clean water; transforming industrial agriculture and fisheries to produce healthy and sustainable food and to protect biodiversity. The Committee encourages countries to conduct impact assessments on children’s climate rights for all environmental regulations, policies, and decisions.
The General Comment states that children’s views should be considered when making environmental decisions and emphasizes the critical role of environmental education in preparing children to take action, advocate for climate causes, and protect themselves from environmental harm. Against the backdrop of these Committee recommendations, it is alarming to discuss the Ministry of Education and Science’s proposals, which include dropping the term “climate change” from the 8th-grade curriculum.
States that have ratified the Convention will periodically report to the UN Committee on the progress they have made in protecting children’s environmental rights. As Dr. Velina Todorova, a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and a member of the National Children’s Network’s Legal Aid Network, stated: “The Committee’s General Comment is not just words on paper. These long-awaited interpretative guidelines come at the most critical moment. Every year, 1.7 million children under five lose their lives due to avoidable environmental damage.”
You can read the full text of the General Comment in English here.