Climate activists Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Villaseñor, and 14 other child petitioners on Monday presented a landmark official complaint to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to protest government inertia on the climate crisis.
The child petitioners, aged between eight to 17 from 12 countries around the world, alleged that Member States’ failure to tackle the climate crisis constitutes a violation of child rights. They urged the independent body to order Member States to take action to protect children from the devastating impacts of climate change.
The complaint aims for the UNCRC to recognise that the climate crisis is a children's rights calamity and that Respondents have knowingly caused and perpetuated the climate crisis, thereby violating each Petitioner’s inalienable human rights by threatening their physical survival, impairing their physical and psychological development, and harming their health
The complaint further acknowledged this was perpetuated by the actions and inactions of all member states, but claimed that without the leadership of the Respondents, the global effort to solve the climate crisis would not succeed.
“Change needs to happen now if we are to avoid the worst consequences. The climate crisis is not just the weather. It means also, lack of food and lack of water, places that are unliveable and refugees because of it. It is scary,” said Greta Thunberg.
Alexandria opened, “We’re here as citizens of the planet, as victims of the pollution that’s been carelessly dumped into our land, air and sea for generations, and as children whose rights are being violated... Today we are fighting back".
"Thirty years ago the world made a promise to us. Virtually every country in the world agreed that children have rights that must be protected. And those countries that signed the 3rd Optional Protocol on Communication have committed to allowing us to appeal to the United Nations when those rights are being violated. So that’s exactly what we’re doing here today", declared Alexandria.
"Each one of us had our rights violated and denied. Our futures are being destroyed. And we’re here – each one of us – to tell you how and why...I’m here because 30 years ago the world signed a contract between generations that the present world would leave a world worth inheriting to the future. And today I want to tell the world, ‘You are defaulting on that contract. And we’re here to collect.'”.
The complaint was filed through the Third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a voluntary mechanism which allows children or adults on their behalf to appeal directly to the United Nations for help if a country that has ratified the Protocol fails to provide a remedy for a rights violation.
Announced at a press conference hosted at UNICEF Headquarters in New York, the complaint aims to inspire the urgent action needed to curb global warming and mitigate the impact of the climate crisis.
“Thirty years ago, world leaders made a historic commitment to the world’s children by adopting the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Today, the world’s children are holding the world accountable to that commitment”, said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Charlotte Petri Gornitzka.
“We fully support children exercising their rights and taking a stand. Climate change will impact every single one of them. It’s no wonder they are uniting to fight back”.
In addition to Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Villaseñor, 14 other child petitioners from Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Marshall Islands, Nigeria, Palau, South Africa, Sweden, Tunisia and the United States filed the complaint. They are represented by global law firm Hausfeld LLP and Earthjustice.
While UNICEF supports the child petitioners in exercising their right to bring complaints via the communication procedure of the Third Optional Protocol, UNICEF stated it is not a party to the complaint as the international organisation remains neutral and plays no part in the adjudication process by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.