UN Committee on the Rights of the Child Turns Its Back on Climate Change Petition From Greta Thunberg and Children From Around the World

The Committee instructs the youth to each file claims in 5 countries, squander years in procedural delays, and then return to the UN after they’ve lost in national courts.

The message to children is “You’re on your own.”

WASHINGTON, Oct. 11, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- In a stunning decision, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the global human rights body tasked with protecting children’s rights, refused to hear the case of 16 youth from around the world who are threatened by the climate crisis.

Represented by a team of human rights and environmental lawyers from Hausfeld and Earthjustice, the youth argued that five G20 countries—Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey—are violating their rights to life, health, and culture under the Convention on the Rights of the Child by failing to curb greenhouse gas emissions to levels that would limit global warming to 1.5°C, a target set by climate science and the Paris Agreement.

Today, the Committee delivered a rebuke to young people around the world who are demanding immediate action on the climate crisis. In dismissing the case, the Committee told children that climate change is a dire global emergency, but the UN’s doors are closed to them.

The petitioners won on several of the most challenging legal issues in climate litigation. The Committee accepted their arguments that states are legally responsible for the harmful effects of emissions originating in their territory on children outside their borders. The fact that all states are causing climate change, the Committee held, does not absolve states of individual responsibility to reduce their own share of emissions. The Committee also found that the youth are victims of foreseeable threats to their rights to life, health, and culture.

Yet this was a hollow victory. The Committee also held that the petitioners must first bring lawsuits in each of the five state’s national courts—despite tomes of case law and expert evidence showing that none of those cases would succeed. In the cases of Germany and Turkey, for example, the Committee disregarded national court decisions that would deny foreign nationals the right to bring environmental claims.

In effect, the Committee instructed the youth to squander years waiting for inevitable dismissal. For petitioner Litokne Kabua and other children from the Marshall Islands in the south Pacific, there is simply no time to file a climate change case in every state in the world that is fueling global warming: if emissions are not immediately reduced, the Marshall Islands will likely be submerged in the ocean within the children’s lifetime.

“I have no doubt this judgment will haunt the Committee in the future,” said petitioner Alexandria Villasenor. “When the climate disasters are even more severe than they are now, the Committee will severely regret not doing the right thing when they had the chance. Children are increasingly on the frontlines of the climate crisis, accounting for over 80% of climate related deaths. Yet again, the adults have failed to protect us.”

“We are going to continue to fight for pathways to justice for children staring down climate extinction,” said Scott Gilmore, lead counsel from global law firm Hausfeld. “The Committee acknowledged that states are legally obligated to act, that our clients’ lives are at risk, and that time is running out. But they still closed the UN’s doors. So be it. The legal battle for the climate now returns to national courts.”

“Once again, polluting states are given a free pass to perpetuate the climate crisis,” said co-lead counsel Ramin Pejan, Senior Attorney at environmental NGO Earthjustice. “Despite acknowledging that the 16 youths are already experiencing devastating impacts from climate change that will continue throughout their lifetime if immediate action is not taken, the Committee leaves them with no effective way to protect their rights.”

More responses from the youth:

Ayakha Melithafa (19, South Africa): I am disappointed with the Committee’s decision today, but also more determined than ever to use every platform available to me to keep fighting for my future. We are on the verge of an abyss and our political leaders must change course immediately - young people should not need to bring legal claims seeking to hold them to account for promises made. COP26 will take place in 20 days’ time, and governments must deliver action there that is of the scale and speed we need.

Catarina Lorenzo (14, Brazil): I am disappointed and worried. We have scientific proof that those countries are impacting our climate, and yet, this case was not accepted. We have our own stories to show how we are being impacted by the current climate change, and yet, the case was still not accepted. I am disappointed in the committee for not seeing this case as admissible in a moment in which we are desperate for real and effective action, as we are facing a crisis, the climate crisis.

Iris Duquesne (18, France): We are all very disappointed but unfortunately not surprised. We have seen governments and officials ignore the climate crisis over and over again and today was no exception. The fight for climate justice is not over, and we will keep pushing with or without the Committee’s help.

Read the September 2019 petition Read the Petitioners' stories Read the FAQ about the petition

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About Hausfeld

Hausfeld is a global litigation law firm. Working alongside our clients, we have shaped law around the world, transformed legal practice with new ideas, and brought claims that others aren’t bold enough to bring. We pioneered the development of flexible fee structures and case funding, enabling our clients across the globe to pursue dispute resolution with no or limited legal cost risk or up-front financial burden. Our firm combines highly experienced litigators and arbitrators with a proven track record in claimant litigation across the following practice areas and sectors: antitrust and competition, commercial and financial disputes, environmental law, human rights, product liability, and technology and data breach issues. With 12 global offices in the US, UK and Europe, we continue to achieve landmark settlements and precedent-setting legal decisions in complex cases for our clients worldwide, often after hard-fought litigation against the biggest names in the legal market.

Socially minded and champions for the best corporate governance, we are proud to be at the forefront of the legal profession in improving access to justice for both individuals and businesses. That makes us a profoundly different law firm.

For more information about Hausfeld, including recent trial victories and landmark settlements, please visit www.hausfeld.com.

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer. Visit www.earthjustice.org to learn more.

This material is distributed by Hausfeld LLP and Earthjustice on behalf of Environmental Youth Activists. Additional information is available at the Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.

Editor’s Notes: The CRC was uniquely positioned to hear this case, as it monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which protects children’s rights around the globe.

The Human Rights Treaty Bodies - Individual Communications FAQ states that “the ‘admissibility’ of a case refers to the formal requirements that a complaint must satisfy before the relevant Committee can consider its substance. The ‘merits’ of the case are the substance, on the basis of which the Committee decides whether or not the alleged victim's rights under a treaty have been violated.”