GNHRE co-hosts the thematic consultation to inform the General Comment on Children’s Rights and the Environment with a Special Focus on Climate Change

by Victoria Lichet with assistance from Natalia Urzola, Maria Antonia Tigre & Dina Lupin

In June 2021, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (the CRC) decided to create a General Comment on Children’s Rights and the Environment with a Special Focus on Climate Change (the General Comment). The goal of the General Comment is to serve as  authoritative guidance on what governments must do to uphold the rights of the child under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC or the Convention) in the face of climate change and other environmental challenges. State Parties can use this guidance in their efforts to undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures of a child-rights approach to environmental issues with a special emphasis on climate change. 

To develop the guidance, the CRC must first assess how to treat the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, in combination and alongside other children’s rights and relevant issues. As a result, thematic consultations have been organized to inform the General Comment, gather experts’ feedback and explore issues of significant importance to the formulation of the General Comment. The objective of these thematic consultations is to draft recommendations that will inform the General Comment. The GNHRE was invited to co-host the consultation on the right of the child to a healthy environment, along with Terre des Hommes and Child Rights Connect. The consultation was held online on Wednesday, March 16th 2022. In this post, we briefly outline the GNHRE’s contribution to the consultation and some information about the event. 

Written contributions by the GNHRE

As a network of scholars and practitioners working in a diversity of spheres of influence which focus on the intersection of human rights and the environment, the GNHRE is uniquely placed to contribute to that discussion. Following an open call for contributors, a working group of the GNHRE prepared a White Paper and a repository of relevant resources to inform the consultation on children’s rights and the right to a healthy environment as part of the General Comment No. 26. 

GNHRE’s working group conducted extensive research into recent scholarship, key developments in international and, to a more limited extent, domestic law, judicial findings and emerging litigation, civil society reports, key policy documents, statements, recommendations, and a range of other political and legal documents that shed light on the state and meaning of the rights of the child to a healthy environment.  The White Paper draws on the work of several expert scholars and practitioners, including the statements and reports of Special Rapporteurs and UN bodies and closely assesses the current state of the policy and law on children’s rights and the environment in an effort to contribute to the progressive development of international law. The resource document compiles relevant materials that analyze the intersection of children rights and the environment.

First thematic consultation

The consultation of the right of the child to a healthy environment was the first of the thematic consultation processes that will inform the General Comment. This consultation focused on the right to a healthy environment and its relationship to children’s rights and the UNCRC. Over 40 participants attended the consultation, which included members of academia, civil society representatives, the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment and members of the General Comment drafting committee. The consultation ran for three hours, with engaging opening remarks from David Boyd (Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment), Jonas Schubert (Officer for Children’s Rights and Right to a Healthy Environment at terre des hommes), Maria Antonia Tigre (Deputy Director of GNHRE and Global Climate Litigation Fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Law), and Mikiko Otani (Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child). Attendants were, then, divided into smaller groups to facilitate the discussion. Some of the questions that guided the discussions were: (i) should domestic legislation (best practices) inform GC26, and if so, to what extent?, (ii) what is the relationship between the right to a healthy environment and other rights in the Convention and the four general principles (e.g., the best interests principle; non-discrimination)?, (iii) should the GC 26 also focus on the procedural/participatory elements of the right to a healthy environment given that children are still often denied their status as rights-holders?, and (iv) what is the relationship between the right to a healthy environment and intergenerational equity? Additionally, the main cross-cutting question referred to the legal basis to recognize the right to a healthy environment under the UNCRC.

At the end of the session, each group presented their main conclusions. Meaningful in-depth discussions led to robust and concise recommendations. The organizers of the consultation are now reviewing these recommendations to share with the CRC to inform the drafting of the General Comment. 

GNHRE working group members actively participated in the consultation as researchers, facilitators and discussants. The GNHRE contributed to the consultation in partnership with Terre des Hommes and Child Rights Connect. 

The GNHRE thanks the members of the working group for their invaluable expertise and contributions to the White Paper and to the consultation process. The Working Group included: 

Maria Antonia Tigre (GNHRE; Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Columbia Law School), Natalia Urzola (GNHRE), 

Victoria Lichet (Global Pact Coalition; GNHRE), 

Erin Dobbelsteyn (University of Ottawa, Canada), 

Laura Mott (CUNY School of Law), 

Jolein Holtz (Leiden University, the Netherlands), 

Victoria Tiana Monfort (Leiden University), 

Paola Villavicencio Calzadilla (CEDAT, Universitat Rovira i Virgili), 

Rashmi Gupta (Jindal Global University), 

Lorena Zenteno (GI-ESCR, GNHRE, University of Edinburgh), 

Aoife Daly (School of Law/Environmental Research Institute, University College Cork), 

Alana Malinde S.N. Lancaster (University of the West Indies, GNHRE), 

Dina Lupin (GNHRE; Southampton School of Law), 

Felix Nana Kofi Ofori (REACT Humanitarian Network, Oxford); 

Alexandra R. Harrington (Lancaster University Law School; GNHRE).

Astrid Milena Bernal

By Astrid Milena Bernal

Astrid Milena Bernal Rubio is a Colombian LL.M student at Pennsylvania State University (concentrations in International Law and Energy and Environmental Law). She is a lawyer from the Universidad Católica de Colombia, Magister in Environmental Law from the Complutense University of Madrid and Specialist in human rights and critical legal studies from the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO) Latin American School of Public Policy- ELAP.

As part of the technical team of GFLAC (climate finance group for Latin America and the Caribbean), she supported the creation of the MRV system (monitoring, reporting and verification) for climate finance in Colombia. In addition, she has been a consultant for the WRI (World Resources Institute) and The Access Initiative (TAI), working as the National researcher for the Environmental Democracy Index (EDI). Also, she has worked as a consultant for AVINA Foundation, The Bogotá’s drainage and sewerage company (EAAB). She has worked as a lawyer and researcher on issues associated with public participation, access to information, forests, carbon markets, rights of indigenous peoples and rural communities in Colombia.

Astrid was a volunteer for the Network for Environmental Justice in Colombia and promoted the creation and growth of the climate justice division at the Environment and Society Association (AAS) of Colombia. She worked as the Climate Justice division coordinator for five years. Astrid was a senior research coordinator in a joint research project with UNICEF to contribute to the fulfilment of the SDGs (6), focusing its work on guaranteeing the rights of access to sanitation for rural, indigenous and Afro-descendant populations in Colombia. She is also part of the founders of the Colombian NGO- CAMBIUM (Climate, Environment and Research-Action Uniting Worlds). This organization aims to, directly and indirectly, influence processes carried out by civil society and decision-makers related to climate change.

Currently, she works at the Global Forest Coalition as an associate for the Unsustainable Livestock Campaign. Astrid also supports the work of Pivot Point and the CLARA group (Climate, Land, Ambition and Rights Alliance), promoting the understanding and participation of CSOs to ensure higher ambition of NDC (Nationally Determined Contributions) in Spanish speakers countries.

Astrid is a research assistant at Penn State University identifying how different kinds of transboundary river basin organizations have written and used dispute resolution mechanisms in both the bilateral agreements between the US, Mexico and Canada (NAFTA-USMCA) and the Autonomous Binational Authority of the Basin of Lake Titicaca (Bolivia, Peru).

Astrid is member of the core team in the Global Network for Human Rights and the Environment (GNHRE), she is part of the global network of environmental lawyers (ELAW) and collaborates as a volunteer for The Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition- CAIR coalition.