Keeping the momentum of action on children's rights and the environment, with a focus on climate change
Skopje, 30 August 2023 – In the winter of 2021, thousands of young people from North Macedonia contributed to the development and adoption of a Youth Climate Declaration calling on decision makers to take specific action on climate change and asking for more opportunities to drive solutions. This Declaration, endorsed by the President of the country and adopted by the Government, placed North Macedonia at the forefront of youth led climate advocacy and action.
Today, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has explicitly affirmed the children’s right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, issuing comprehensive interpretation of Member States’ obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This General Comment should serve as a reminder to sustain our efforts on climate action, understating it as fundamental action to uphold children’s rights.
“Young people in this country have shown true leadership on the issue of climate change. They successfully advocated and supported new comprehensive policy, and they showed great innovation capacities and willingness to design and implement their solutions on the ground. This is a resource that we must nurture if we are to remain a champion country in climate change education and action.” – said Patrizia DiGiovanni, UNICEF Representative.
UNICEF continues to support the Government in empowering children and young people in North Macedonia to be agents of change in reducing community vulnerability to climate change – which undermines children’s rights across the world. With support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the Swedish Embassy in Skopje and in collaboration with key ministries, a comprehensive climate education programme has been rolled out with a wealth of opportunities for meaningful environment and climate change education and engagement for young people.
Through the programme, UNICEF supported the Ministry of Education and Science and the Bureau for Development of Education in creating documents and policies that incorporate contemporary and scientifically proven approaches to education about environmental impact and climate change. As a result, new curricula, textbooks, and comprehensive and cohesive learning standards that horizontally integrate environment and climate change education across different disciplines have been developed.
To strengthen the capacities in environmental education, nearly 6000 teachers were provided with practical tools, guides, trainings, and educational resources that facilitate their practical work. To date, thousands of activities and experiments have been organized across the country, allowing more than 35.000 children from kindergartens and primary schools to understand complex environment and climate-related concepts through hands-on activities tailored to their age.
The programme also supports the establishment of the Science Learning Network – comprised of the following six institutions: Botanical Garden – Skopje, Hydrobiological Institute – Ohrid, Educational Centre – Negrevo, Narodna Tehnika, Macedonian Ecological Society and the National Park – Galichica. The Science Learning Network has so far shown massive potential to provide extracurricular educational activities and workshops to schools in the area climate change and convene young people through practical engagement and skills building opportunities. Close to 500 students already attended workshops in the piloting phase.
Finally, 300 young people took part in UPSHIFT, а social innovation programme implemented in partnership with the Fund for Innovation and Technological Development, through which they gained skills, mentorship, and seed funding to implement 30 ideas aimed to solve environmental challenges in their communities.
Although the country has made significant progress, this momentum needs to be sustained with consistent support through policy design, climate financing and responsible decision making which is also considering child rights impact. With its General Comment, the Committee on the Rights of the Child not only echoes and amplifies children’s voices, but also clearly defines the rights of children in relation to the environment that States Parties should respect, protect, and fulfil.
Through several consultative initiatives, young people in North Macedonia have made five clear asks: creating space for young people to drive climate solutions; decision makers to rethink economic models and find ways to incentivize industries to work sustainably; to promote repair and reuse and durable products that last longer; to decentralize energy production with a greater focus on solar energy cooperatives; and to introduce climate change education with experiential learning.
The climate crisis is not a future threat – North Macedonia has been struggling with enormous air pollution, heat waves, floods, droughts, and fires for many years now. The effects are detrimental for the whole population, but children and young people are particularly vulnerable. We are not only responsible for protecting children’s rights from immediate harm, but also for any violations on their rights in the future, due to our failure to act today.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.mk.