UN ruling gives children new legal protection from climate change threats

UN ruling gives children new legal protection from climate change threats

MEDIA RELEASE, 19 September 2023

Protection from adverse effects of climate change has been affirmed as a right for all children under international law by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. 

Launched yesterday in Geneva, the Committee’s General Comment No. 26 (2023) on Children’s Rights and the Environment With a Special Focus on Climate Change places new legal obligations on States, like New Zealand, which have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

“As a contributor to the UN Committee which issued this statement, OraTaiao welcomes its wide-ranging verdict and we urge the New Zealand Government to now honour its obligations to act for our children”, says OraTaiao Co-convenor Summer Wright. 

“We are already seeing this year the impacts of climate change on the health and wellbeing of tamariki and rangatahi, with the devastation across Te Ika a Māui caused by Cyclone Hale, the Auckland floods and Cyclone Gabrielle. These impacts are set to worsen for the children of Aotearoa and the world, over the course of their lifetimes.”

“OraTaiao’s thematic report to the UN Committee on Children’s Rights in a Changing Climate highlighted in particular the impact of climate change on tamariki Māori, Pacific children, disabled children and children living in low-income settings in Aotearoa.

“For Māori children, climate change will compound pre-existing inequities in life outcomes. It may also disrupt relationships Māori children have with their ancestral lands and whānau, with implications for mental health and cultural identity. We are heartened to see this reflected in the UN statement, which comments specifically on the “Rights of Indigenous children and children belonging to minority groups”.”

General Comment No. 26 (2023) also reaffirms children’s right to “Freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly”, their “Right to be heard” and for their “views… to be given due weight.”

“OraTaiao’s thematic report to the UN focused attention on the School Strikes 4 Climate held around Aotearoa in 2019 and 2021”, says Summer. “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. There is now a legal duty for the Government to heed their calls.” 

General Comment No. 26 (2023) recognises that, “While children in Indigenous communities face unique risks, they can also act as educators and advocates in applying traditional knowledge to reduce the impact of local hazards and strengthen resilience, if this knowledge is passed on and supported’.”

“Our traditional knowledge is embedded in oral forms like whakataukī, karakia and waiata”, says Summer. “In kōhanga reo all over the country, indigenous children sing, ‘He taonga o taku ngakau, Ko taku mokopuna e, He mokopuna korikori, Hei aha hei aha ra’. Applying the knowledge that our children are our greatest treasure must now be central to all climate action.”



Notes to editors

The “General comment No. 26 (2023) on children’s rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change”, 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.


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