“Whatever land my father had and the house he had went under the water in the river erosion and that’s why my parents decided to get me married,” said Sultana C., who was married at age 14. Bangladesh is among the countries most affected by climate change, and many families there, like Sultana’s, are pushed by natural disasters into deepening poverty – increasing the risk of child marriage.
Over the next 10 days, policymakers from 195 countries are meeting in Bonn, Germany, to discuss how governments should implement the 2015 Paris climate agreement. On Monday, Morocco, which holds the presidency of the climate talks, hosted an event on children’s rights and climate change. They were joined by the ambassador from Fiji, which will hold the negotiation’s presidency later this year, and several United Nations child rights experts. This was the first time that the Climate Convention Presidency has officially hosted an event on human rights.
A focused discussion on children’s rights and climate change is urgently needed. Climate change’s impact on health, access to water, and education, among other areas, disproportionately affects children, whose bodies and minds are still developing. In the Turkana region of Kenya, Human Rights Watch found that climate change, along with other challenges, means children have become sick because their families are unable to provide them with sufficient food and clean water.
There is a growing push to address how environmental degradation harms children. UNICEF, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have all highlighted the negative impact of climate change on children, and the need for government action. Children who suffer environmental harm should also be able to hold governments and companies that are responsible to account.
Policymakers in Bonn need to take heed, follow the advice given at Monday’s presidency briefing, and place children’s rights at the heart of these climate talks. The children of today and of the future deserve a planet where their rights are fully respected.
Published on HRW's website on May 10, 2017.
Human rights and environment
In recent years, the recognition of the links between human rights and the environment has greatly increased. The number and scope of international and domestic laws, judicial decisions, and academic studies on the relationship between human rights and the environment have grown rapidly.
Many States now incorporate a right to a healthy environment in their constitutions. Many questions about the relationship of human rights and the environment remain unresolved, however, and require further examination.
As a result, in March 2012 the Human Rights Council decided to establish a mandate on human rights and the environment, which will (among other tasks) study the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and promote best practices relating to the use of human rights in environmental policymaking.
Mr. John Knox was appointed in August 2012 to a three-year term as the first Independent Expert on human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. His mandate was further extended in March 2015 for another three years as a Special Rapporteur.
The resolution 16/11 adopted by the Human Rights Council on 12th of April 2011 entitled “Human Rights and the environment” requested the Office of the High Commissioner “in consultation with and taking into account the views of States Members of the United Nations, relevant international organizations and intergovernmental bodies, including the United Nations Environment Programme and relevant multilateral environmental agreements, special procedures, treaty bodies and other stakeholders, to conduct, within existing resources, a detailed analytical study on the relationship between human rights and the environment” (para.1).
See also the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes
Human rights and climate change
In its 5th Assessment Report (2014), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) unequivocally confirmed that climate change is real and that human-made greenhouse gas emissions are its primary cause. The report identified the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and natural disasters, rising sea-levels, floods, heat waves, droughts, desertification, water shortages, and the spread of tropical and vector-borne diseases as some of the adverse impacts of climate change. These phenomena directly and indirectly threaten the full and effective enjoyment of a range of human rights by people throughout the world, including the rights to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture and development.