Climate Change and Child Rights

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Prashant Chauhan*

*Assistant Professor, Shri Ram College of Law, (Affiliated to CCS University, Meerut) Muzaffarnagar (UP)

[The Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 through Article 24 casts a duty on the State parties to recognize the rights of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standards of health and to provide facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. State parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such healthcare services. Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities. It is the duty of the nation to provide pollution free environment to the children. The primary health centre should be well equipped to deal with epidemics caused by change in climate and to adopt measures to improve the health and wellbeing of its citizens. International community should take proper positive steps to provide rights guaranteed to them.]

Nowadays, we can see there is change in climate and it is considered to be one of the main reasons for environmental disaster. The main cause for environmental degradation is industrialization and urbanization, which on one hand, makes our life comfortable, but on the other hand, has bought many hardships like discharge of industrial waste that pollutes the environment, if not treated and properly disposed of. It has effect on whole atmosphere and according to a WHO report; more than one million people die due to respiratory diseases that develop due to exposure to such air pollution. Carbon dioxide is the most dangerous and it causes temperature to rise and it has been the major greenhouse gas responsible for climate charge.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) observes that natural systems in all continents and most oceans are affected by regional climate changes, particularly due to increase in temperature. The adverse effect of climate change on human health is widely accepted by the scientific community. Around 30% of plant and animal species are in danger of extinction and if there is an increase of 1.5 – 2.5 degree centigrade temperature globally then there will be health issues too.

For example:

  1. Malnutrition
  2. Increased deaths, diseases and injury due to extreme weather conditions.
  3. Increased diarrheal casualties.
  4. Increased cardio-respiratory disease.

The rapid changing scenario of global climate change alarmed the world community and as a result the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Charge (UNFCC), held its first conference at Kyoto for eradicating this hazard from the planet. The Kyoto protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nation Frame work on Climate Charge which commits its parties by setting internationally binding emission reduction targets3.

Children are the worst affected lot by the vagaries of climate change because of their tender age, greater exposures and their inability to understand the weather pattern. Measures should be adopted for protection of children against climate variations. Since climate charge is infringing basic human rights, it becomes essential for the international community to address this problem and adopt suitable measures for protection of human right and give due recognition and enforcement of rights of children.

The Human Rights in the context of protection against climate change, inter alia, include:

  • Human rights are grounded in a person’s ‘ Humanity’
  • Represent moral thresholds.
  • Respect each and every individual.
  • Take general priority over other values4.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 through Article 24 casts a duty on the State parties to recognize the rights of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standards of health and to provide facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. State parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such healthcare services5. International community should take proper positive steps to provide rights guaranteed to them.

Besides this, the present generation has a moral obligation to manage the earth in a manner that will not jeopardize the welfare of the coming generation.

The World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) advocated for sustainable development. Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs6. Following things should be kept in mind:-

  1. Do not cut down trees faster than they grow back.
  2. Do not form lands at levels or in a manner that reduce the land’s regenerating capacity.
  3. Do not pollute water at levels that exceed its natural purification capacity7.

Various measures should be adopted to protect children against climate change by implementing positive actions like improving healthcare system, creating awareness about protection of children from negative effects of climate change etc.

It is the duty of the nation to provide pollution free environment to the children. The primary health centre should be well equipped to deal with epidemics caused by change in climate. It is the duty of the state to adopt measures to improve the health and wellbeing   of its citizens. Several constitutions also guarantee right to life, including right to live in a pollution free environment8.

Pediatricians have the most important role in relation to sustainable development and child health which they can perform as follows:

  • To educate themselves and to ensure that sustainable development becomes a part of teaching and training to pediatricians.
  • To advocate for principles of sustainable development both locally and nationally.
  • To set a personal example by adopting the principles of sustainable development in their own life styles.
  • To develop appropriate research methods to assess the health impact of policy decision on children9.

Various others measures include: to deal with diseases, which are food-borne, water-borne and vector- borne, in cooperation with state and local authorities and detection and monitoring of epidemics and climate-related disasters.

International community should accelerate the process of scientific research in the field of climate change. Such research will help in finding the climate charge related epidemics and disasters and it should also include the monitoring and surveillance of activities related to climate change adaptation necessary for public health. Although the impact of climate change on human health has come to be acknowledged, there is no unanimity among the scientists as regards the impact; thus it becomes more important to have this research for the wellbeing of the children. 

Undoubtedly, the WHO’s efforts to develop internationally comparable children’s environmental health indications are there; nevertheless, there is a need for quality and continuous environmental health indicator data that are disaggregated by age group and include children. As scientific uncertainty exists in relation to climate change, nation states should adopt precautionary measures to anent the negative impact of climate change.  The Preamble to the WHO’s constitution defines health as a “State of Complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.”

UNICEF has accomplished considerable progress in this direction. Its manual emphasizes on providing a minimum package that offers guidance into addressing environmental risks and vulnerabilities to climate change within schools and their surrounding communities. These inquiry-based activities for empowerment include participatory risk mapping and facilities based environmental solutions in adapting to changing condition and reducing risk through preparedness and response10. UNICEF lays emphasis on following aspects also which are as follows:-

  1. Improved water supply.
  2. Gender – Sensitive Sanitation facilities.
  3. Promoting Good hygiene practices.
  4. Addressing nutritional needs through school based interventions.
  5. Increasing access to energy.
  6. Addressing challenges posed by climate change through improvements in disaster risk reduction, preparedness and response activities.

School is instrumental in providing environment education to the children, so that they can act wisely during the time of disasters. Psychological assistance is also important during the time of crises for the overall development of the children.

With a view to promote the contribution of stakeholders in international climate forums, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has taken various steps on issues related to climate change and has also undertaken tremendous efforts to build the capacity of young people in matters of environmental conservation, which are as follows:

  • Providing young people with a forum for exchange of ideas and experience thus enhancing inter-country cooperation;
  • Facilitating youth participation in national, regional and international environmental forums as and whenever possible.
  • Encouraging young people’s involvement in key decision making in international environmental forums such as the, African Ministerial Conference of Environment (AMCEN), United Nations Framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) the United Nations Convention on the Biological Diversity;
  • Raising the visibility of environmental conservation through environmental awareness campaigns using media, sport, art and other cultural activities targeting young people from across the region12.

Generation of public awareness along with the above-mentioned measures is very important, which is well understood by Principle 10 of Rio De Janero Conference, 1992 which states that: “Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities, in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making process. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redness and remedy, shall be provided.”12

Thus, active participation of children and youth in environment decision-making at both national and international levels is necessary as they are vulnerable and likely to be affected by decisions taken at the international forum.

Summary

 Climate change has very alarming effect on mankind and there is scientific evidence to prove the same. All countries of the world should join hands and adopt strategies to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and other climate change related problems. Health development of children should be given priority. It is very important to sensitize them regarding the impact of climate change, through promoting discussions on the same within schools, families and friend circles.

Citations:

  • World Health organization, Indoor Air Pollution and Health, September 2011, http://www.who.int/me-diacentre/factsheets/fs292/en/index.html.
  • Core writing Team – Lenny Bernstein, Peter Bosch & Setal, Extended writing Team-Terry Barker, Review Editors – Abdelkader Allali & et al. An Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Charge, Climate Charge 2007
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Charge, Kyoto Protocol, February 9, 2013.
  • Supra Note 2
  • Convention on the Right of the Child, office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Monitoring Child Rights http://www.ohchr.org/english/taw/crc.htm.
  • C. Shastri, Environmental Law (3rd 2008, Eastern Book Company)
  • Shyam Diwan and Armin Rosencran, Environmental Law and Policy in India. CASES MATERIALS AND STATUTES, (2nd Oxford University Press, 2001) at 585.
  • 9. Constitution of Malaysia; Section 16, Art. 11, Constitution of Philippines 1987.
  • TONY WATERSTON, SIMON LENTOW, Sustainable Development, Human induced Global Climate Change, and the Health of Children http://www.adc.bmj.com /content/82/2/95. Full. pdf+html
  • Manual Child-Friendly School, http://www.unicef.org/ publications/files/ child-friendly-schools-Manual_EN_040809.pdf.

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