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UN Child Rights Committee rules that countries bear cross-border responsibility for harmful impact of climate change

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GENEVA (11 October 2021) -- In a historic ruling on the harmful effects of climate change on children's rights, the Child Rights Committee has found that a State party can be held responsible for the negative impact of its carbon emissions on the rights of children both within and outside its territory.

The Child Rights Committee (CRC) published its ruling -- the first such ruling by an international body -- today, after examining a petition filed by 16 children from 12 countries against Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey in 2019. The children claimed that these five countries, which were historic emitters and had recognised the competence of the Committee to receive petitions, had failed to take necessary preventive measures to protect and fulfil children's rights to life, health, and culture. The children also argued that the climate crisis is not an abstract future threat and that the 1.1°C increase in global average temperature since pre-industrial times has already caused devastating heat waves, fostering the spread of infectious diseases, forest fires, extreme weather patterns, floods, and sea-level rise. As children, they claimed, they were among the most affected by these life-threatening impacts, both mentally and physically.

The Committee held five oral hearings with the children's legal representatives, the States' representatives and third party intervenors between May and September 2021. It also heard the children directly. In this historic ruling, the Committee found that the States concerned exercised jurisdiction over those children.

"Emitting States are responsible for the negative impact of the emissions originating in their territory on the rights of children -- even those children who may be located abroad. The collective nature of the causes of climate change must not absolve a State from its individual responsibility," said Committee member Ann Skelton. "It is a matter of sufficiently proving that there is a causal link between the harm and the States' acts or omissions," Skelton added.

In this case, the Committee determined that Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey had effective control over the activities that are the sources of emissions that contribute to the reasonably foreseeable harm to children outside their territories. It concluded that a sufficient causal link had been established between the harm alleged by the 16 children and the acts or omissions of the five States for the purposes of establishing jurisdiction, and that the children had sufficiently justified that the harm that they had personally suffered was significant.

The Committee was, however, unable to adjudicate on whether the States parties in this specific case had violated their obligations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The complaints procedures require that petitions are only admissible after the complainants have taken the claim to the national courts and already exhausted legal remedies that may be available and effective in the countries concerned before bringing their complaint to the Committee.

The decision can be accessed here.

ENDS

For more information and media requests in Geneva, please contact:
Vivian Kwok at +41 (0) 22 917 9362 / vivian.kwok@un.org or UN Human Rights Office Media Section at +41 (0) 22 928 9855 / ohchr-media@un.org

Background:
The Committee on the Rights of the Child monitors States parties' adherence to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols on involvement of children in armed conflict, and on sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The Convention to date has 196 States parties. The Committee is made up of 18 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure (OPIC-CRC) allows the Committee to receive and examine complaints by individuals or groups of individuals claiming to be victims of a violation of the rights of the child by States that have ratified the Optional Protocol. To date, 48 States have ratified or acceded to the OPIC-CRC. The Committee's views and decisions on individual communications are an independent assessment of States' compliance with their human rights obligations under the Convention and its two substantive optional protocols.