‘We will never forgive you’: youth is not wasted on the young who fight for climate justice



Swedish activist Greta Thunberg joins other children from across the world to present an official human rights complaint on the climate crisis.
Michael Nagle/EPA

Danilo Ignacio de Urzedo, University of Sydney

Last week’s United Nations climate summit may go down in history – but not for the reasons intended. It was not the tipping point for action on global warming that organisers hoped it would be. It will instead probably be remembered for the powerful address by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, who castigated world leaders on behalf of the generation set to bear the brunt of inaction.

Young people are not sitting back and waiting for older generations to act on the climate crisis. Days before the summit, school students led a climate strike attended by millions around the world. And at the first ever UN youth climate summit, more than 500 young people from 60 countries, including myself, explored how to meet the commitments of the Paris Agreement.

This group of activists, innovators, entrepreneurs, and change-makers aged between 18 and 30 showcased potential solutions and put global political leaders on notice: they must fight off the climate crisis at the scale and pace required.

A young boy takes part in the global climate strike on September 20 at Parliament Square in London.
Neil Hall/EPA

Youth voices matter

Youth aged 15 to 24 years represent 16% of the world population and will reach 1.3 billion people by 2030. Obviously the action (or otherwise) of today’s decision makers on climate change and other environmental threats will affect generations to come – a principle known as intergenerational equity.

Millions of young people around the world are already affected by climate change. Speaking at the youth summit, Fijian climate action advocate Komal Kumar said her nation was at the frontline of a crisis and worldwide, young people were “living in constant fear and climate anxiety … fearing the future”.




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“Stop hindering the work [towards a sustainable future] for short term profits. Engage young people in the design of adaptation plans,” she said. “We will hold you accountable. And if you do not remember, we will mobilise to vote you out.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres attended the event and his deputy Amina Mohammed took part in a “town hall” with the attendees, alongside senior representatives from government and civil society.

Young people are not sitting idly by

Technological solutions presented by youth summit participants included 3D printing using plastic waste, data storage in plant DNA, a weather app for farmers and an accountability platform for sustainable fashion.

Participants learnt how to amplify their voices using Instagram and how to create engaging videos with their mobile phones. An art workshop taught youth how creativity can help solve the climate emergency, and a networking session showed ways that youth leaders to stay connected and support each other.

Greta Thunberg, second from right, speaks as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and young climate activists listen at the start of the United Nations Youth Climate Summit.
Justin Lane/EPA

Elsewhere, you don’t have to look far to see examples of young climate warriors, including in the developing world.

Programs funded by the UN development program include in Kazakhstan where youth are helping implement an energy efficiency project in schools, and in Namibia where young people are being trained as tour guides in national parks and nature reserves. In Nepal, young people cultivate wild Himalayan cherry trees as a natural solution to land degradation.

Harness the power of nature

Kenyan environmental activist Wanjuhi Njoroge told the youth summit of her nation’s progress in restoring the country’s forest cover.

Nature-based solutions to the climate crisis – such as conserving and restoring forests, grasslands and wetlands – were a key focus at the summit. Efforts to meet the Paris climate goals often focus on cutting fossil fuel use. But nature has a huge ability to store carbon as plants grow. Avoiding deforestation keeps this carbon from entering the atmosphere.

Thunberg and British writer George Monbiot released a film ahead on the New York summit calling on world leaders protect, restore and fund natural climate solutions.

A film by Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot calling for more nature-based climate change solutions.

To date, such solutions have received little by way of investments and funding support. For example in 2015, agriculture, forestry and land-use received just 3% of global climate change finance.

Appearing at the youth summit, the global Youth4Nature network told how it mobilises young people to advocate for nature-based solutions. Their strategy has included collecting and sharing youth stories in natural resources management in more than 35 countries.

Youth ‘will be watching’ their leaders

When it comes to climate change, young people have specific demands that must be acknowledged – and offer solutions that other generations cannot.

But globally there is a lack of youth representation in politics, and by extension, they are largely absent from climate change decision-making.




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Some youth summit participants reportedly questioned whether it achieved its aims – including the value of some workshops, why celebrities were involved and whether anything tangible was produced.

A young girl attends the the global climate strike in Brisbane.
Dan Peled/AAP

Certainly, there was little evidence that world leaders at the climate summit were listening to the demands of young people. This was reflected in the failure of the world’s biggest-polluting countries to offer credible emissions reduction commitments.

But the youth summit went some way to granting young people space and visibility in the formal decision-making process.

Pressure from young people for climate action will not subside. Thunberg said it best when she warned world leaders that youth “will be watching you”.

“The eyes of all future generations are upon you,” she said. “If you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you”.The Conversation

Danilo Ignacio de Urzedo, PhD candidate, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With 15 other children, Greta Thunberg has filed a UN complaint against 5 countries. Here’s what it’ll achieve


Juliette McIntyre, University of South Australia

Yesterday, climate activist Greta Thunberg joined 15 other children from around the world to submit a complaint – or “communication” – to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. They targeted Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey.

Ranging from nine to 17 years old, and from twelve different nations, the group includes a young Sami reindeer herder, a member of the Indigenous Yupiaq tribe, and teenagers from the Marshall Islands who fear their island home will vanish under rising sea levels.




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Their communication argues these countries are violating the standards set in the Convention of the Rights of the Child – which is run and monitored by the committee.

They allege these countries are:

recklessly causing and perpetuating life-threatening climate change [and] have failed to take necessary preventive and precautionary measures to respect, protect, and fulfill the petitioners’ rights.

In particular, the communication alleges the petitioners’ rights to life, health, and culture have been violated.

But whether or not the petitioners are successful, the mere act of filing the complaint has already brought the matter into the public eye.

Greta Thunberg gives a searing speech to world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit.

So what role does the committee play? And can their claim actually change international climate policy?

Standing up for the rights of the child

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is an international human rights treaty that concerns the right to protection and the economic, social, cultural and political development of all children.

And it’s the job of the Committee on the Rights of the Child – a group of 18 independent experts – to monitor the worldwide implementation of the convention’s standards.

The convention came into force in 1990 and is “the most rapidly and widely ratified human rights treaty in history”. All the countries of the world bar one – the United States – have ratified the treaty.

The CRC establishes global standards with respect to human rights as they apply to children. In particular, article 3 of the CRC requires:

in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

How the CRC works

The CRC committee has two functions. First, it oversees the implementation of the convention by receiving reports every five years from participating countries outlining the steps taken to fulfil their obligations.




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Information is also gathered from NGOs and other sources to identify areas of concern. For example, Australia’s last report to the committee was submitted in January 2018. It addressed issues such as the offshore detention of child refugees.

The Australian government appeared before the committee on September 9 and 10, and the committee’s recommendations will be received by the end of this week.

But the second, relatively new, function of the committee permits an individual, or group of individuals, submit a communication arguing their rights have been violated. This “Optional Protocol” – adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2011 – is what Greta Thunberg and the 15 other children are using.

Communications may only be made in respect of countries that have ratified the Optional Protocol and, to date, only 45 out of the 196 state parties have done so. Australia, the United States, Great Britain and China are among those countries that have not signed or ratified.

Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey have ratified the Optional Protocol and have also ratified the substantive international legal obligations relating to climate change. As Greta recently tweeted, this is why these particular five countries were selected.

What next?

There are a number of procedural legal hurdles that must be cleared before the committee can address the substance of the issue.

First, it must be determined if the communication is actually admissible, which includes whether the petitioners have exhausted the legal options in their home countries for addressing their concerns.

But while Thunberg and her co-petitioners have not brought any actions in state or federal courts it may be the committee allows the matter to proceed anyway, since taking such action may have been “unreasonably prolonged or unlikely to bring effective relief”.

Second, the committee must rule on jurisdiction, as the obligations of the CRC only apply to each child within a country’s jurisdiction.

Some of the petitioners meet this requirement by virtue of their nationality or residence, but the communication makes a broader claim: any child is within the jurisdiction of a country when its polluting activity impacts the rights of children, within or outside that country’s territory.

This is a very significant claim: essentially, that carbon pollution leading to climate change violates the rights of children worldwide.

Only once these hurdles are cleared will the committee investigate the substance of the complaints, proceed to a hearing, and make recommendations to any country responsible for violation.

Are they likely to succeed?

The success of the claims may seem a foregone conclusion, as the committee is one of five UN human rights treaty bodies to recently issue a joint declaration stating: “climate change poses significant risks to the enjoyment” of human rights. And that climate change is “a children’s rights crisis” seems an inevitable conclusion.

Still, the communication must clear all the legal hurdles set out above.

But even should the committee agree with Thunberg, the options for redress are limited. After the committee transmits its views and recommendations, they’ll follow up six months later to see if its recommendations have been implemented.




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If they haven’t, there’s not much the committee can do to compel a country to take action.

But the committee’s conclusions are not without impact. Its views and recommendations are strong advocacy tools.

Alongside the school strikes, the communication is part of a broad campaign designed to focus political attention on the issue of urgent action on climate change.The Conversation

Juliette McIntyre, Lecturer in Law, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.