Shedding light on children’s rights to environmental education and to healthy biodiversity

By Elisa Morgera

The Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI) logo

As part of the One Ocean Hub’s partnership with CERI (the international Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative), Hub Director Elisa Morgera contributed to two further thematic consultations on children’s right education and on the inter-dependency of children’s human rights with biodiversity in July-August 2022. The consultations served to support the preparation of the “zero draft” of a new UN General Comment on Children’s rights and the environment, with a focus on climate change, which is due to be released for public comment in October 2022. The Hub had already contributed to previous phases of this process (see here, here and here).

Children’s right to education and a healthy ocean

On 27th July 2022, Prof Morgera participated in a virtual thematic consultation on children’s right to education, which included human rights experts, members of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and drafters of the General Comment. Discussions focused on the importance of children’s human right to environmental education for children’s rights to be heard and have access to justice in environmental matters. Participants discussed the challenges of ensuring holistic environmental and sustainable development education, of preventing discrimination and effectively nurturing children’s leadership as agents of change, and of including in national legislation key requirements for environmental education.

Prof Morgera shared inputs from across the Hub on the need to:

  • integrate the ocean as part of the inter-connected climate change, biodiversity and toxics crises in children’s environmental education, with a view to effectively supporting the exercise of children’s procedural rights in ocean-related decision-making processes;
  • decolonize ocean literacy and environmental education (particularly on the marine environment-culture nexus), with a view to preventing discrimination vis-à-vis children from different cultural backgrounds, worldviews and life experiences;
  • integrate ocean culture and arts in children’s environmental education, with a view to supporting the exercise of their procedural rights to contribute to transformative change (see also Hub’s submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights);
  • consider the role of education in supporting also children’s human right to benefit from science and participate in scientific endeavours, so that children’s needs can inform research priorities, including in the context of the UN Decade for Ocean Science and climate finance;

  • ensure that environmental education does not perpetuate misinformation (including business-led misinformation such as on ocean plastics, etc) and the role of business responsibility to respect children’s human rights in gathering and sharing information;
  • clarify States’ duty to cooperate internationally to support and fund decolonial environmental education and ocean literacy, as well as put in place other measures to support children’s procedural rights as agents of change also in international processes.

Children’s rights and (marine) biodiversity

On 16th August 2022, Prof Morgera co-organized with CERI a thematic consultation on biodiversity and children’s rights, which included former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment John Knox, one of the drafters of the General Comment, and a representative of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (who sits on the Hub’s Advisory Board) among others.

Prof Morgera co-wrote the discussion paper for the consultation, which drew from her 2020 report to the European Parliament on biodiversity as a human rights, as well as Hub’s policy brief on children’s rights to a healthy ocean and the impacts on their rights arising from ocean plastics. Prof Morgera also delivered an introductory presentation on the importance of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea for the protection of children’s human rights. As part of the discussion, she recommended that the UN General Comment clarify States’ obligations to:

  • refrain from carrying out or permitting activities that may lead to terrestrial, freshwater and marine biodiversity loss resulting in foreseeable infringements of children’s rights to life, survival, development, health, culture and play;
  • establish and maintain substantive non-regressive and precautionary measures on terrestrial, freshwater and marine biodiversity that include the best interests of the child as a primary consideration/informed by disaggregated data on impacts on children;
  • use maximum available resources to prevent biodiversity loss and degradation and its negative impacts on children’s human rights;
  • integrate child-specific considerations in strategic, impact and risk assessments prior to taking decisions on the conservation and sustainable use of terrestrial, freshwater and marine biodiversity;
  • ensure access to information on, and include in children’s education, the linkages between climate change, biodiversity and toxics, to enable children to understand how their rights can be infringed by States’ environmental measures and to support the exercise of children’s rights to participation and access to remedies;
  • in the negotiations and implementation of international agreements, identify and prevent foreseeable infringements of children’s rights arising from the loss of terrestrial, freshwater and marine biodiversity loss, including in marine areas beyond national jurisdiction; and
  • within the framework of international cooperation, = take all possible measures to mobilize, allocate and spend sufficient financial resources to address the combined impacts of the global climate, biodiversity and toxics crises on the rights of children and future generations.

Next steps

Hub researchers are finalizing a series of papers to support the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, as well as stakeholders, in the further development of the UN General Comment, with a focus on:

  • States’ due diligence obligations under the law of the sea and international biodiversity law to protect children’s human rights;
  • the connection between the ocean-culture nexus and children’s human right to development, and the need to integrate the nexus in children’s education with a view to support the exercise of their procedural rights;
  • children’s right to participate in international ocean-related processes;
  • decolonizing ocean literacy to support the protection of children’s human rights.

Meanwhile, we are pleased to share an updated and expanded version of our report on the child rights dimensions of SDG 14.