Working with the UN Committee on the Rights of the child to promote environmental rights

The city of Geneva is home to most human rights institutions of the United Nations. The Human Rights Council is based in the famous Palais des Nations and the human rights bodies monitoring the implementation of the various international human rights treaties hold their sessions nearby, in the Palais Wilson where the League of Nations was founded. Many of us advocating for children’s environmental rights have travelled to Geneva many times in recent years. Most often to meet with the Committee on the Rights of the Child and convince this body of experts that the right to a healthy environment belongs high up on the international children’s rights agenda.

In 2016, for example, we first proposed and then co-organized a global conference hosted by the Committee – a “Day of General Discussion” – to explore the adverse effects of a harmful environment and, conversely, the benefits of access to nature and a healthy environment during childhood. The event mobilised many human rights and environmental organizations in the field. Since then we have collaborated with different UN Special Rapporteurs to further enhance understanding of the relationship between children’s rights and the environment. This has led to the publication of numerous reports covering issues ranging from pollution to climate change and biodiversity.

In 2020, the Human Rights Council held a full-day meeting on realizing children’s rights through a healthy environment. For the first time, the Council allowed two child representatives from the Ivory Coast and Colombia to advocate for themselves and  their environmental rights. Their powerful messages and our advocacy around the event helped press the Council to adopt a ground-breaking resolution including concrete recommendations that call on States to integrate a strong child perspective in their environmental policies.

These days it is not possible for us to travel to Geneva and enjoy the beautiful view on the lake and the Alpes, yet our advocacy moves on – online. Twice in the last two weeks we came together with the newly established environmental working group of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to discuss potential areas for collaboration. Items on the agenda included:

  • The reviews of State Parties under the Convention on the Rights of the Child: Too few of them include environmental issues in their periodic reports that document efforts to implement the global framework for children’s rights. This has to change!

  • COP 26: What can the Committee do to promote the mainstreaming of children’s rights in climate policies under the Paris Agreement during 2021 when youth topics feature prominently in government dialogues toward the COP 26 in Glasgow? Governments are already championing a blueprint in its Declaration on Children Youth and Climate Action , with CERI, UNICEF and YOUNGO as the co-custodians.

  • A General Comment on Child Rights and the Environment: The Committee is soon ready to decide the development of a new legal commentary to the Convention that will provide States and other actors with guidance in an area of importance for children’s rights. We think the new General Comment should focus on the child’s right to a healthy environment. The environmental crisis is one of the greatest challenges for children’s rights in the 21st century!

The campaign for children’s rights and the environment has already come a long way, but we still have hard work to do with a view to achieving our goal: creating a healthy environment for children to live and grow up in.

If you’re interested in joining advocates from across the globe fighting for children’s right to a sustainable world you can join our Action Network. To stay updated on the latest policy and advocacy developments on child rights and the environment you can sign up to our Policy Advocacy Newsletter.


Jonas Schubert leads the Environmental Rights Campaign of Terre des Hommes, a core partner for the Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI). 

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