Climate crisis - Child Rights Crisis
The Ministry of Environment and Water and UNICEF Bulgaria presented “General Comment No. 26 on children’s rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change” by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child
Sofia, 19 October 2023- Mr. Yulian Popov, Minister of Environment and Water, Mrs. Ivanka Shalapatova, Minister of Labor and Social Policy, Mrs. Velina Todorova - member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Mrs. Christina de Bruin, UNICEF Representative in Bulgaria, civil and youth organizations involved in environmental and climate issues took part in a discussion on the occasion of the presentation of the document.
Environmental harm is a significant threat to children's rights worldwide. Children demand immediate action, and their rights must be protected. A clean, healthy and sustainable environment is itself a human right and is necessary for children to exercise their rights. The new general comment on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child explains why urgent action on the environment and climate issues is needed and what governments must do to protect all rights of the children.
“Children are the least responsible for the climate crisis but suffer most from its consequences: every year 1.7 million children under the age of five lose their lives due to avoidable environmental damage. The General Comment is an urgent call for all states to prioritize action on every childhood aspect affected by climate change, such as the child's right to education and a healthy environment. The climate crisis is a child rights crisis.” stated Christina de Bruin, UNICEF Representative in Bulgaria.
General Comment No. 26 provides for the first time a comprehensive interpretation of member states' obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in taking action to address environmental and climate change issues.
According to Minister Yulian Popov, the government, industry and individuals are doing a lot to limit the consequences of climate change, but there is still a lot to be done. He noted that in the last 30 years, infant mortality has decreased, life expectancy has increased, air quality in Sofia and throughout the country has improved, and the quality of food has increased.
"Therefore, do not fall into the trap of the so-called climate anxiety, it is important to focus on solutions, and there are solutions - both for mitigating climate change by reducing and eliminating industrial energy greenhouse gases, and for adaptation to climate change," said Minister Popov.
General Comment 26 also makes it clear that child rights impact assessments must be undertaken for all environment-related legislation, policies and projects, regulations, budget or other decisions. It explicitly addresses the climate emergency, the collapse of biodiversity and pervasive pollution, outlining countermeasures to protect all rights of the children.
"Children are more vulnerable than adults when it comes to dealing with the consequences of various social phenomena, including climate change. That is why it is important for me and the team at the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy to do everything possible to prevent of the negative effects on children's lives," stated Minister Shalapatova.
"General Comment 26 is important in that it recognized a new right - to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and children must demand this right from their state," said Prof. Dr. Velina Todorova, member of the UN Committee on the rights of the child.
The guidance states that children’s views must be considered in environmental decision-making and stresses the critical role of environmental education in preparing children to take action, advocate, and protect themselves from environmental harm.
"I meet many young people who are very interested in the topic and have suggestions for concrete actions. It is important that we participate in making decisions, because they affect us and our children much more than anyone else," said Tsvetelina Garelova, youth delegate to the UN, during the discussion.
General Comment No. 26 itself is the outcome of global and intergenerational engagement, including broad consultation with Member States, international and regional organizations, such as United Nations entities and specialized bodies, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations and children themselves.
We also remind the data from the 2022 Places and Spaces Report of the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti, which compares how 39 countries from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Union (EU) cope with providing a healthy environment for the children. The report includes indicators such as exposure to harmful pollutants, including toxic air, pesticides, moisture and lead; access to light, green spaces and safe roads; and countries' contributions to the climate crisis, resource consumption and e-waste disposal. Bulgaria occupies 35th place out of a total of 39 countries in the ranking, but it is important to note that it does not perform poorly in all dimensions.
UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/Bulgaria.