Raina Ivanova, 19 year old Youth Leader and Intern of H2OO, and one of 16 Petitioners in the Children vs. Climate Crisis Petition (10 of which were identified and supported by H2OO), was a guest speaker September 20, 2023, at a side-event on Children and Climate Change at the 54th session of the Human Rights Council. The event was co-organized by Child Rights Connect’s Working Group on children’s rights and the environment, of which H2OO is a member, and the Permanent Mission of Morocco.
The topic at issue was the General Comment on Children’s Rights and the Environment with a Special Focus on Climate Change (GC 26). GC26 is intended to be authoritative guidance on how children’s rights are impacted by the environmental crisis and what governments should do to uphold these rights to ensure that children live in a clean, healthy and sustainable world.
Raina, along with other youth leaders of H2OO, was invited to review and comment on the drafts of GC No. 26. Raina took the additional step of meeting with Committee members of the Convention of the Rights of the Child regarding GC26. Raina and her peers did not feel GC26 sufficiently required governments to take action to protect children considering the impact of the climate crisis and what they and future generations are inheriting.
Raina shared her thoughts at the side-event on Children and Climate Change at the 54th session of the Human Rights Council:
According to the UNICEF’s Climate Risk Index, half of the world’s children live in countries that are categorized as extremely endangered by climate change. This is equivalent to almost 1 billion children whose safety, education, livelihoods, and quite literally their lives themselves are severely endangered by the consequences of climate change. This is why the right to a healthy environment lays one of the most basic foundations for the realization of child rights.
The climate crisis is a child rights crisis.
The right to life is threatened by more severe natural disasters.
The right to health is threatened by faster-spreading diseases due to global warming.
The right to cultural identity is gravely at risk, especially for islanders due to sea level rise.
And the right to the best interests of the child as a primary consideration, is not met at every decision that perpetuates the climate crisis.
In order to protect these rights I joined a group of 15 other child plaintiffs in 2019 and filed the first petition through the Convention on the Rights of the Child that addressed 5 countries who violated these rights through their contribution to climate change. Our petition was dismissed in 2021; however, it became one of the reasons why General Comment 26 was dedicated to the right to a healthy environment with a special focus on climate change. Over 16,000 children contributed throughout the consultation process, including me and some of my fellow plaintiffs who shared our comments and suggestions with the Committee on the Rights of the Child including Mikiko Otani, who is also here today. Additionally, there was a Child Advisory Team set up that also supported the consultation process of the General Comment.
In many ways, General Comment 26 is a breakthrough for child rights, but in order for it to also become a milestone the work has just started. For this, we must understand the intersectional impacts of the climate crisis and how they are entwined with child rights, especially for the most affected children. To show this intersectionality I want to share the example of droughts that become more intense and long-lasting due to climate change. This not only endangers the right to food and water but can also lead to an increase of child labor and the violation of the right to education as UNICEF reports have shown. In severely impacted areas school attendance can drop drastically even leading to the entire shutdown of schools because the children are needed to help take care of livestock and to fetch water. Studies have shown that even gender-based violence can increase as a consequence of this.
These issues cannot be tackled individually from one another, and it is critical that we understand this when we work on implementing the new General comment. The effects of climate change are disproportionate and much more strongly felt in the global south but child rights and the protection of our shared environment have to be strengthened everywhere. Therefore, I invite you to join us child right and environmental defenders in making this breakthrough a milestone and in ensuring that what is written on paper in the General Comment is translated into reality for all children. I truly appreciate the inclusive effort to engage children in the making of this comment and I hope that we can build on this in the future and make sure that children can always participate safely in matters that concern them. Thank you once again, and I believe the only thing that’s left to say is let’s get to work!