MEDIA RELEASE, 21 February 2023
The New Zealand government has received a clear message from the United Nations about the need to enable children and young people, in particular Māori and Pasifika children and children living in low-income settings, to meaningfully participate in climate change planning and decision-making.
The recommendation came in the “Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of New Zealand”, recently released by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Meeting in Geneva from 16 January to 3 February, the Committee’s panel of experts reached their conclusions after considering evidence from government representatives, official watchdogs, individual experts and civil society organisations, including a thematic report on “Children’s Rights in a Changing Climate” submitted by OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council.
“It has been seven years since the Committee last reported on New Zealand’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”, said report author and OraTaiao Co-convenor, Summer Wright. “Over that time, even before the triple-whammy of Cyclone Hale, the Auckland floods and Cyclone Gabrielle ravaged Te Ika a Māui, it had become clear that the impact of climate change on the health and wellbeing of tamariki and rangatahi is escalating rapidly.”
“Especially concerning is the impact on Māori children, which will compound pre-existing inequities in life outcomes. Climate change may also disrupt relationships Māori children have with their ancestral lands and whānau, with implications for mental health and cultural identity.”
“Many children in Aotearoa have deep family connections in the Pacific and regard Pacific islands now threatened by climate change as their homelands. Some children living in the wider Realm of New Zealand, such as those on the islands of Tokelau, face the total disappearance of their country and its island-based culture.”
“At the same time, children and young people are increasingly speaking up about climate change”, said OraTaiao Co-convenor Dr Dermot Coffey. “Waves of school strikes were held around Aotearoa in March, May and September 2019, and in April 2021. The September 2019 school strike marches drew 170,000 New Zealanders – 3.5 per cent of the country’s population – onto the streets, most of them children.”
“Unfortunately, there is little sign so far that the government is heeding their calls.”
“While the UN has not addressed the full range of concerns and recommendations raised by OraTaiao,” said Ms Wright, “we are pleased they acknowledge that the rights of the child to basic health and welfare include the right to meaningfully participate in shaping New Zealand’s climate change response.”
The full text of the UN recommendation reads:
“34. Taking note of target 13.5 of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Committee recalls its previous recommendations and further recommends that the State party facilitate the accessibility of children and young people, in particular Māori and Pasifika children and children living in low-income settings, to meaningfully participate in climate change planning and decision-making including on adaption and mitigation work, also as required by the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019, and in the work of the Climate Commission.”
Notes to editors
The “Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of New Zealand”, released by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, is available here.
OraTaiao’s thematic report on “Children’s Rights in a Changing Climate”, submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, is available here.
For additional context to this media release from Dr Claire Breen, Professor of Law at the University of Waikato and expert submitter to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, see "Children can now report rights violations directly to the UN – it’s progress, but Aotearoa New Zealand still needs to do more" on The Conversation.