Sixteen children filed a petition alleging that Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey violated their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (“the Convention”) by making insufficient cuts to greenhouse gases and failing to encourage the world’s biggest emitters to curb carbon pollution. The children ask the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (“the Committee”) to declare that respondents violated their rights by perpetuating climate change, and to recommend actions for respondents to address climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Petitioners claim that climate change has led to violations of their rights under the Convention, including the rights to life, health, and the prioritization of the child’s best interest, as well as the cultural rights of petitioners from indigenous communities. For example, Deborah Adegbile of Nigeria asserts that she has been repeatedly hospitalized for asthma attacks triggered by rising temperatures and exacerbated smog. Ellen-Anne of Sweden alleges that climate change imperils her indigenous community’s traditional reliance on reindeer husbandry and herding. David Ackley III, Litokne Kabua, and Ranton Anjain of the Marshall Islands similarly claim that sea-level rise poses an existential threat to their culture.
Each respondent has ratified the Convention. All five have signed the Paris Agreement but, according to petitioners, none have made or kept commitments that align with keeping temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius. The petition asserts that respondents have four related obligations under the Convention: (i) to prevent foreseeable domestic and extraterritorial human rights violations resulting from climate change; (ii) to cooperate internationally in the face of the global climate emergency; (iii) to apply the precautionary principle to prevent deadly consequences even in the face of uncertainty; and (iv) to ensure intergenerational justice for children and posterity. Petitioners allege that respondents have failed to prevent foreseeable human rights harms caused by climate change by making insufficient reductions to greenhouse gas emissions. Petitioners further claim that as members of the G20, respondents have failed to use available legal, diplomatic, and economic tools to protect children from the greenhouse gas pollution of major emitters including China, the United Stations, the European Union and India.
The children request that the Committee make findings including that climate change is a children’s rights crisis, and that each respondent has caused and is perpetuating climate change by knowingly acting in disregard of available scientific evidence. They also ask the Committee to recommend that the respondents review, and where necessary, amend their laws and policies to ensure that mitigation and adaptation efforts are accelerated; initiate cooperative international action to establish binding and enforceable climate measures; and ensure children’s right to be heard in all efforts to mitigate or adapt to the climate crisis. The Committee must determine if the petition is actionable before making findings or recommendations.
Brazil, France and Germany responded to the petition, arguing that it was not admissible on three grounds: 1) the Committee lacks jurisdiction; 2) the petition is manifestly ill-founded or unsubstantiated; and 3) petitioners have not exhausted domestic remedies. On May 4, 2020, the petitioners filed a reply asserting that the petition is admissible. They argue: 1) that the Committee has jurisdiction because the children are "directly and foreseeably injured by greenhouse gas emissions originating in Respondents' territory;" 2) the claims are manifestly well-founded because the children are suffering direct and personal harms now and will continue to in the foreseeable future; and 3) that pursuing domestic remedies would be futile.
On October 12, 2021, the CRC rejected the claim as inadmissible. The Committee accepted the claimant's arguments that States are legally responsible for the harmful effects of emissions originating in their territory on children outside their borders. The fact that all states are causing climate change does not absolve states of individual responsibility to reduce their own share of emissions. The Committee also found that the youth are victims of foreseeable threats to their rights to life, health, and culture.
Following the reasoning of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR)’ 2017 advisory opinion
, the CRC found that countries have extraterritorial responsibilities related to carbon pollution. Using the IACtHR's test for jurisdiction, the Committee found that when transboundary harm occurs, children are under the jurisdiction of the State on whose territory the emissions originated if there is a causal link between the acts or omissions of the State in question and the negative impact on the rights of children located outside its territory, when the State of origin exercises effective control over the sources of the emissions in question.
While the Committee said that the children had shown, for jurisdictional purposes, that the impairment of their rights as a result of the State party’s acts or omissions regarding the carbon emissions originating within its territory was reasonably foreseeable, it held that the complaint was inadmissible for a failure to exhaust local remedies.