Children are taking the climate fight to the courtroom: Let's stand with them
Children from around the world are providing leadership in the climate movement and inspiring change. Children are exercising their legal right to speak out and demand change through online activism, leading protests and calling for action from world leaders. Just a handful of examples include Fridays for Future, the Sunrise Movement Initiatives, and Mock COP.
Children are also engaging in processes to hold states to account. A group of six Portuguese children and youth have now taken direct action and filed a case in the European Court of Human Rights against 33 European countries on their failure to act on climate change.
The case originates from the deadly wildfires that took place in Portugal in 2017, which killed over 100 people. The child and youth applicants argue that, by contributing to global warming and the global climate emergency, European countries are violating their human rights, including their right to life, right to private and family life and their right to non-discrimination.
14-year-old Emanuel from Norway, who is not involved in the court case but is concerned about climate change, told Save the Children:
"I think they are incredibly brave to step forward and lead the way. I admire their commitment and courage to tell the leaders that enough is enough."
"The climate crisis leads to catastrophic consequenses for all living organisms on Earth. Therefore it is extremely important that we handle this before it is too late."
To stand with the children and youth fighting for their rights and to take action on climate change, Save the Children has submitted a third-party intervention to the European Court of Human Rights. The intervention sets out the impact that climate change is having on children’s rights, including their physical and mental health, their right to education, and their rights as activists.
Although they have contributed the least to the climate crisis, children now and in the future will be the most affected by its impacts. Children are exposed to extreme weather events, like floods, cyclones, heatwaves and droughts, which can put children at an increased physical risk, as they are more likely to be killed or injured than adults by natural hazard related disasters. Extreme weather events can also affect children’s mental health, put them at an increased risk of food insecurity and often force children and their families to leave their homes and migrate – exposing children to violence, harmful work, extreme poverty and reduced access to health and education services.
For example, children and their families in Fiji live on the frontline of climate change, and are impacted by increasing drought and water scarcity, rainfall changes, coastal flooding and erosion, and the worsening impact of frequent natural disasters, which all threaten children’s food security and nutrition.
The climate crisis will affect all children, but hardest hit will be those that are already at a disadvantage due to inequalities rooted in poverty, migration, social marginalisation and discrimination based on gender and disability. For example, when households are hit by climate change, marginalised girls in the least developed countries are most likely to be taken out of school to take care of their family members, collect water and firewood, and provide food to sustain their family.
Even though climate change is and will be catastrophic for children and their rights and there is an ever-growing movement of children around the world calling for climate action, children and their rights are often absent from climate discussions, policies and ambitions. For example, a UNICEF report in 2019 found that only 20% of the National Determined Contributions – national plans outlining how a country will achieve the global targets set out in the Paris Agreement – mentioned children directly.
Too often, when children exercise their rights to campaign and influence change, they face serious challenges. Adults do not take them seriously. They are bullied, condemned, harassed, and in the worst cases detained, and killed. Too often, they do not have access to child-friendly and appropriate information that can help children claim their rights.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world, and gives children the legal right to freedom of expression, association, assembly, and the right to participate in decision-making. It is key that leaders uphold these rights and support children, especially those that are the most marginalised and deprived, to have their voices heard, and involve them in local, national and international decision-making to address the climate crisis now.
As adults and decision-makers, we have to support and empower children to claim their rights, and ensure that children have safe and meaningful opportunities to share their views and demands to address the climate crisis. Let’s make this year’s COP26 in Glasgow a test on world leaders’ commitment to truly listen to and involve children in climate decisions.
 UNICEF (2019), Are climate change policies child-sensitive?