UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment Statement: Respond to children’s call for environmental action

Dr. David Boyd is the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment and is the spearhead of the Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI). On 1 July 2020 at the Annual Full-Day Meeting of the Human Rights Council on the Rights of the Child (ADRC) he addressed governments with the following statement demanding the recognition of children’s right to a healthy environment .


Hello from Canada

I’m Dr David Boyd, the Special Rapporteur on human rights and environment and I’m delighted to be joining you today.

Let me start by expressing my gratitude to the organizers of this session and to this beautiful blue-green planet that we are so fortunate to call home. Earth is the only planet in the universe known to support life, yet we are not treating our home with the respect it deserves.

The latest illustration is the global COVID-19 pandemic that has killed 500,000 people, afflicted more than ten million, and forced billions into lockdowns.

Hundreds of millions of children have missed school, missed playing with friends and missed spending time in nature. Some have been infected with COVID-19, and some have died.

What many people do not yet understand is that governments ignored scientists’ warnings about the dangers of coronaviruses for 25 years. Warnings that deforestation, changing wildlife habitat into agricultural land and human settlements, failing to regulate the wildlife trade, and massively intensifying livestock production created a perfect storm of conditions for the spillover of diseases from wildlife into humans. Seventy percent of emerging infectious diseases in recent decades have been zoonoses, jumping from wildlife into humans—HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Marburg, avian influenza, Nipah virus, many others, and now COVID-19.

But just as governments ignored warnings about coronaviruses for decades, States continue to ignore scientists’ warnings about the gravity of the global environmental crisis.

Children’s rights are being threatened and violated by the global climate emergency, the precipitous decline in biodiversity, and pervasive toxic pollution. We know that children are highly vulnerable to these risks, but young people are also key actors in finding solutions.

A central element of my work as Special Rapporteur is to highlight the profound impacts of environmental degradation and climate disruption on children and youth. I have had the tremendous pleasure of working with the Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative, Terre des Hommes, UNICEF, UN Environment on a global initiative on child rights and the environment. I have met with children and youth from Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Indonesia, Fiji, Kenya, the Philippines, Nigeria, Norway, Canada and many other States.

If there is one thing that all of these young people have in common, it is that they all love this planet. They love nature. But they fear the future!

That’s why millions of young people marched in the streets last year demanding just and effective climate action.

They want adults to listen, engage, and most importantly, act.

They want governments to recognize their fundamental right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and to take steps required to implement this right.

They want governments to listen to the climate scientists and the ecologists and respond to their calls for rapid, systemic and transformative changes.

If we are genuinely committed to serving the best interests of children, then let’s respond to their calls for action. This Council should move quickly to pass a resolution recognizing that everyone, especially children, have the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. We have the solutions, the ingenuity, and the creativity to overcome today’s environmental challenges, saving millions of lives and trillions of dollars in the process.

My report to this Council earlier this year, in March, highlighted more than 500 good practices from more than 170 States. But States need to step up, scale up, and speed up rights-based actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, stop deforestation, protect and restore healthy ecosystems, and prevent pollution by shifting to a circular economy.

We can and we must fulfill our commitment to the world’s children and provide them with a just and sustainable future. If we recognize it and implement it, the right to a healthy environment could be one of the most important human rights of the 21st century.

Thank you, merci beaucoup, muchas gracias, muito obrigado!

Previous Post
HEY Campaign Joint Interview Series: Jaimmie-lee and Sojourner from Barbados
Next Post
Interview with 15-year-old environmental activist Juliana from Colombia
Other posts