Children’s climate petition faces years of delay

The landmark petition filed by 16 children against Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey may take years to be discussed by the Committee of the Rights of the Child, says member Justice Vui Clarence Nelson.

In September, during the United Nations Climate Summit in New York, 16 children including four from the  Pacific Islands, filed a petition under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (C.R.C) against the five nations for their climate crisis inaction and polluting industries.

It is the first time children have filed a formal complaint under the U.N.C.R.C. The petitioners are between ages eight and 18. The youngest is Ellen-Anne from Sweden, and Swedish activist Greta Thunberg is also among them.

Explaining the process, Justice Vui said before the committee of 18 experts on child's' rights can even look at the petition officially, it must make its way up the 100 strong waiting list first.

“There are other burning issues besides this particular petition and we are treating this petition just like every other petition, because all these petitions are important,” Justice Vui said.

“There is a waiting list. The reality is that it will take time for this petition to go through the processes, because there are processes it has to go through before it gets to the stage where the committee is ready to make a decision.”

Those processes including having the petition vetted by the secretariat, and researched by exports who report on it to the committee. But before all that, there is a six month period in which the countries petitioned against have the right to respond.

The countries are given three months to respond with an optional three month extension, but in Justice Vui’s experience, that extension is nearly always taken.

“It could be a year or two years before this petition has complied with all the procedures and is in a form where it gets to the committee for discussion, and then of course, we have the discussion of the committee,” he said.

“This is not something you deal with in one hour or two hours.” According to the Acting Chief Justice, decisions can reach up to dozens of pages, like one recent decision that was 35 pages long. 

Carlos Manuel from Palau, and Marshallese Litokne Kabua, David Ackley II and Ranton Anjain are the Pacific Islanders who are among the petitioners.

The petition is 101 pages long and highlights that not only is the climate crisis already happening, it is already harming children.

They allege each of their accused is knowingly causing and perpetuating the climate crisis, and that they have known about it for decades.

“Despite their decades-long knowledge, each respondent has breached its human rights duties by causing and perpetuating the climate crisis and undermining international cooperation,” the petition states.

The five countries are accused of violating the children’s right to life, health, and the rights of indigenous children’s right to culture. 

“Each respondent has failed to make the best interests of children a primary consideration in their climate actions.”

But Justice Vui does not believe the lengthy process dishearten anyone from committing to their case.

“We like the children to express their views and to be heard on issues like this but like all things of this nature, there is a process and you cannot bypass it.

“It is what it is. But I don’t think it will put off people like Greta, people who believe in the cause. I don’t think it will put any of us off that it takes time. It is the nature of the beast.”

On the petition itself, Justice Vui said neither he nor the committee can make any public statement on it yet, as it has not “officially” been seen by them. 

But he did say he looked at it online where it has been shared, and acknowledged it has a lot of aspects to it than “need to be examined carefully.”

Soon after the petition was filed, the committee did make a public statement in support of children campaigning on climate change, and said children have a legal right to have their views heard.

“The children have told us that they see the future of the planet as one of the major issues facing them,” said the Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Luis Pedernera.

“Children are already negatively impacted by pollution, droughts, other natural disasters, health risks, and degradation of ecosystems, and we welcome the passionate engagement of children in relation to these issues.”

Last month, the committee met for the 30th anniversary of the C.R.C, which has been ratified by all states except for the United States of America.

“All children around the world should benefit from the same protection of their rights.” the statement reads.

“In this regard,” the Committee said, “we call on the United States of America to ratify the Convention to ensure universal ratification.”

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