Environmental degradation is a pressing human rights challenge. It can have irreversible, lifelong and even transgenerational consequences for children.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) explicitly requires States to take steps to protect the environment. It calls upon States parties to consider the dangers and threats of pollution in the context of the right to health of children and to ensure that education of children develops respect for the natural environment.
Education and heath are however by no means the only rights relevant to our conversation today. Children’s health, food safety, as well as housing can for example be negatively affected by improper disposal of waste and toxic materials. There is indeed a wide recognition today that the negative impacts of environmental harm cuts across a range of the rights of the child.
Preventive and precautionery action, including adequately enforced laws and monitoring, should lie at the heart of our protection efforts. The EU has some of the world’s highest environmental standards, developed over decades. Our legislation on water and air quality, wastes and chemicals all set specific requirements with respect to human health and safety. A concrete example of how the EU has undertaken specific action to protect children from exposure to hazardous substances is our directive on the safety of toys, which prohibits the presence of substances in toys that are classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction. These requirements create rights, which can be invoked by individuals and civil society organizations before national courts and the Court of Justice of the European Union. Over the years civil society actors have contributed in practical ways to protecting, conserving and restoring biodiversity and healthy ecosystem.
The EU also has strict standards on environmental assessments and policies ensuring that companies undertake environmental and human rights due diligence with view of preventing violations of the righst of the child.
While we can proudly say that the protection of environment and sustainability issues are integrated across EU legislation, policies and programmes, more needs to be done to improve public – including children’s -participation and access to justice on environmental matters.
We would thus like to turn to the panellists and ask how we could improve children’s access to justice in environmental matters. What immediate steps can be taken to make available remedies more child-friendly?