Youth File Legal Complaint: Climate Crisis is a Children’s Rights Crisis

This article was originally published on CommonDreams.org under a Creative Commons license.

by Jake Johnson

Children from across the world presented their official human rights complaint on the climate crisis to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images, reposted from CommonDreams.org.

More than a dozen youth activists from around the globe filed a “groundbreaking” legal complaint on Monday accusing five major nations of violating the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child by failing to act on the climate crisis.

The complaint, presented to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in New York, names France, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, and Turkey—the biggest polluters among signatories of the Rights of the Child Treaty. The United States and China, the world’s biggest polluters, were not named in the lawsuit because they have not ratified the portion of the treaty that allows victims to pursue justice for alleged violations.

A total of 16 youth activists from 12 nations joined the legal action, including 11-year-old Ridhima Pandey from India, 17-year-old Ayakha Melithafa from South Africa, 14-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor from the U.S., and 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden.

“People who are older aren’t paying as much attention because they will not be as affected,” Melithafa said in a statement. “They don’t take us children seriously, but we want to show them we are serious.”

“The 1.1°C rise in global average temperature is presently causing devastating heat waves, forest fires, extreme weather patterns, floods, and sea level rise, infringing on the human rights of millions of people globally,” says the complaint. “Because children are among the most vulnerable to these life-threatening impacts, physiologically, and mentally, they will bear the burden of these harms far more and far longer than adults.”

“Petitioners, children from around the world, already carry that burden,” the complaint continues. “Climate change is exposing them to life-threatening dangers and harming their health and development. For the indigenous petitioners, their thousand-years-old cultures are threatened by climate change. The climate crisis is a children’s rights crisis.”

During a press conference unveiling the complaint, Carlos Manual, a 17-year-old petitioner from the island nation of Palau, said his community’s “homes are being swallowed by the ocean” due to rising sea levels caused by a warming climate.

Earther’s Brian Kahn called the youth-led suit “potentially world-changing” because, if successful, “the United Nations would classify the climate crisis as a children’s rights crisis.”