“More than 1.5 million children under the age of five lose their lives each year as a result of avoidable environmental impacts,” says a 2018 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment.
Worried about climate change, youth are using environmental rights to demand more action to address ecological crises around the world. They know that they will suffer disproportionately from the burdens of today’s environmental degradation and they also know that we must act now.
There are a number of powerful ways in which youth have been engaging in advocating for their environmental rights. Below are three of the most effective to date.
Lawsuit of the century
Twenty-one youth plaintiffs, all between 11 and 23 years old, have filed a lawsuit against the United States government asserting that their rights to life, liberty and property have been violated through the government’s affirmative actions that cause climate change. For years, this groundbreaking constitutional climate lawsuit, Juliana vs United States, has succeeded through multiple courts and motions, garnering widespread and ardent support along the way. It has survived attempts at dismissal from two administrations and the fossil fuel industry—whilst being supported by multiple organizations, members of U.S. Congress, legal scholars, religious women’s groups, businesses, historians, medical doctors, international lawyers and environmentalists. In a demonstration of the youth’s pivotal involvement in the case, 32,000 young people added their names to a Young People’s Brief; a legal brief that was filed in court. Engagement by youth is spurred and built using the hashtags: #AllEyesOnJuliana #RatherBeInCourt #JoinJuliana
Meanwhile, in Peterborough Ontario, a group of high school students defended their environmental rights by making demands to their government to tackle climate change.
"Our environmental rights need to be protected, they're important to us," said Hannah Grills, a Grade 11 student from Holy Cross.
This call was made as part of the Climate Strikes that have taken the world by storm in the past year.
Started by then 15-year-old Greta Thurnberg in Sweden, the strikes have spread to include thousands of children, hundreds of demonstrations and scores of countries. Demanding immediate and meaningful action to fight climate change, these strikes are organized and championed by children under banners such as: #FridaysforFuture #YouthStrike4Climate #SchoolStrike4Climate #ClimateStrike
In March 2019, at least 1.4 million young people took part in a climate rally. And on 24 May 2019, climate rallies were held in over 130 countries.
Fuelling these strikes is an understanding that the youth have a voice and that it should be heard and considered in decision-making on environmental matters. These strikes are a powerful exercise in fighting for the right to public participation in environmental matters.
The youth taking part in these strikes and other demonstrations dread the version of the planet that awaits them if inaction continues, and so they are demanding that their right to a healthy environment be met, now and in the future.
Global Initiative to Advance Children’s Right to a Healthy Environment
In May 2019, UN Environment and other partners launched a Global Initiative to Advance Children’s Right to a Healthy Environment. Over two years, regional workshops across the globe, consisting of deliberations between children, youth and experts, will be held. These will culminate in a Global Declaration on Children’s Right to a Healthy Environment that will be presented to world leaders in 2021. The first consultation was held in Bogota Colombia from the 2nd to 3rd of May and for many of the youth it was the first time that their opinions on environmental issues were heard. A global survey where children can share their views on rights and environmental issues has been created and is available in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. This initiative is being spread under the hashtags: #MyPlanetMyRights, #MiPlanetaMisDerechos, #MeuPlanetaMeusDireitos.