In the face of a deepening climate crisis, partners gather in Bangkok to recognize and reaffirm new obligations to protect the lives and futures of children
BANGKOK, 9 November 2023 – In the presence of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment no. 26 was formally launched in Southeast Asia today at an event hosted by the UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office in Bangkok.
The new General Comment, which was published in August, explicitly addresses the climate emergency and the related obligations of States to protect the lives and wellbeing of children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child for the first time.
The Southeast Asia launch of the Comment was hosted by UNICEF in collaboration with OHCHR, UNEP, Child Rights Coalition Asia, Child Rights International Network, Child Rights Information Center, Save The Children, World Vision and Terre Des Hommes.
Speaking at the regional launch, the Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Ann Skelton stated, “ Children have pushed their concerns about the environment and climate change to the top of agenda, General comment 26 recognizes this, and provides legal and practical guidance to States and to the business sector on upholding children’s rights in the context of the triple planetary crisis”.
In line with the General Comment’s focus on the role of children and youth people in steering the climate discourse around the world, the regional launch in Bangkok was co-convened by young people. Young advocates from Cambodia and Vietnam also connected virtually to share their climate advocacy experiences and highlight the need for urgent action to address the biodiversity loss and increasing pollution.
17-year-old youth advocate from Thailand, Prim Yong shared “ Low quality air is low quality life, and it affects my rights, your rights and our children’s rights. Take climate now.”
The General Comment specifies that States are responsible not only for protecting children’s rights from immediate harm, but also for foreseeable violations of their rights in the future due to States’ acts — or failure to act — today. Furthermore, it underlines that States can be held accountable not only for environmental harm occurring within their borders, but also for the harmful impacts of environmental damage and climate change beyond their borders. Particular attention should be paid to disproportionate harm faced by children in disadvantaged situations.
The adoption of this General Comment followed a series of in-person and online consultations with children from 121 countries and regional consultations in Asia and South America. Based on 170 written submissions from States, United Nations entities, the national human rights institutions, civil society and 16,331 contributions from children themselves, it was ensured that the general comment is representative of the diverse experiences and best interests of children globally.
Following the regional launch, the Vice Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Sopio Kiladze stated, ‘ Healthy, clean and sustainable environment is crucial for children to enjoy their rights enshrined in the Convention. We need strong commitment from states, business and their effective steps. But a tight cooperation of all stakeholders is inevitable too. We owe it to our children.’
The General Comment is a significant milestone and is an outcome of global, regional and intergenerational engagements, and states that children’s views must be considered in environmental decision-making and stresses the critical role of environmental education in preparing children to take action, advocate, and protect themselves from environmental harm.
“Boys and girls in East Asia and the Pacific are standing on the frontlines of the global climate crisis. They experience six times more climate disasters than their grandparents did only 50 years ago,” said Debora Comini, Regional Director, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific. “Climate change and its impact on children cannot be addressed by any single agency, organization, or government. It is critical that we work together, including with the business sector, to ensure children’s rights to survival, protection, development and participation.”