Why Children and Youth Hold the Key to a Sustainable Future

Photo-illustration: Pixabay

In a world where climate change-induced environmental emergencies, such as floods, extreme temperatures and fires, are increasingly becoming the norm, the future can often look uncertain. This future is particularly uncertain for children, youth and future generations, who experts recognize as the most vulnerable group to the impacts of climate change.

“Children and youth are the most impacted by today’s global environmental crisis, and are the most threatened by our current trajectory,” said David Boyd, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment.

As the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report 2021: The Heat is On shows, if the current trajectory is to be changed – and the global temperature rise kept well below 2°C, with the target of 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels, in line with the Paris Agreement – the triple threat of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution and waste needs to be tackled.

“We must remember that children’s lives are interlocked with the environment, whatever happens to the environment effects children,” said Jonas Schubert, a human rights officer with Terra des Hommes, a UNEP implementing agency.

UNEP has just released guidelines and principles highlighting the importance of protecting the environment for future generations and ensuring that children have access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

The Principles and Policy Guidance on Children’s Rights to a Healthy Environment in the ASEAN Region focuses on the ten Southeast Asian states that make up the ASEAN region but carries wider ramifications for children globally.

“Every child on Earth is exposed to some combination of the climate crisis, pollution or the decline of biodiversity. Children from poor, vulnerable and marginalized communities face the worst environmental threats,” said Boyd.

By endorsing STEP-UP, a Joint Commitment by UN entities, UNEP has committed to promoting the rights of children, youth and future generations to a healthy environment. It has also pledged to involve them in meaningful participation in decision-making at all levels on climate action and climate justice.

UNEP has long championed the rights of youth to a sustainable environment and has increasingly involved them in the process. A child-friendly version of the Principles and Guidance on Children’s Right to a Healthy Environment in the ASEAN Region was recently released in response to one of the ten Principles, which stated that children must have “access to age-appropriate, gender-sensitive, localised and contextualised information.”

In February last year, UNEP released the GEO-6 for Youth report. The first fully interactive e-publication, written by youth for youth to engage, educate, and lead youth towards environmental action.

Also in February, UNEP supported The Global Youth Environment Assembly (YEA), which was organized by the UN Major Group for Children and Youth. One of the key aims of this assembly was how youth could engage with policymakers ahead of UNEA-5.

Before COP26, the Youth4Climate event drew together 400 youth climate leaders from 186 countries to adopt a collective declaration to present to ministers before COP26.

“To successfully ensure a sustainable future for every child and future generations, we must involve them in designing and implementing solutions,” said Boyd.

Source: UNEP