Inter-American Court of Human Rights Advisory Opinion on Climate Emergency receives Amicus Brief from Children’s Rights Charities

Two environmental charities focusing on children’s rights, Global Action Plan (‘GAP’) and Kyklos (Chile), have submitted an Amicus Brief to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) drafted by Ben Cooper KC, Toby Fisher of Matrix, Finnian Clarke, and Louise Willocx, acting pro bono. The Amicus answers the Court’s question addressing States Parties’ positive obligations towards children in response to the climate crisis. It is argued that the Inter-American Convention, read together with the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, obliges States Parties urgently to take reasonable mitigation measures in order to limit global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees.

The Amicus responds to the invitation from the President of the IACtHR for observations in response to Colombia and Chile’s Request for an advisory opinion on the Climate Emergency and Human Rights. 

Our team commissioned two new expert reports addressing the physical and psychological effects of climate change on children. 

The expert team on children´s physical health includes Ana Bonell and Rob Hughes of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom; McKenna Parnes of the University of Washington, United States of America; and Audrey Prost of the University College London, United Kingdom.

The research and drafting team on children´s mental health includes Susan Clayton of Wooster University, United States of America; Emma Lawrance of the Imperial College London, United Kingdom; McKenna Parnes of the University of Washington, United States of America; Ann Sanson of the University of Melbourne, Australia and, Ans Vercammen of the University of Queensland, Australia.

The counsel team submitted these reports as part of a separate Amicus Brief for the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL). Relying on this authoritative new evidence from leading experts on children’s physical and mental health, we demonstrated the extent to which the climate emergency interferes with children’s rights, and proposed concrete mitigation and adaptation measures.

The climate crisis is a child rights crisis: children are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change; climate change will affect a greater proportion of those who are currently children as compared to those who are currently adults; and current delay in taking effective measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change increases the future mitigation and adaptation burden on those who are now children as well as the losses and damage they will suffer. 

This directly affects States Parties’ positive obligations under the Convention.

First, the impacts of climate change on children interfere with the enjoyment of their fundamental rights protected by the Convention. More precisely, various human rights bodies, such as the UN Child Rights Committee, the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Human Rights Council, and the IACtHR, have made findings on how it compromises children’s right to life, their right to human dignity, their right to a healthy environment, and their right to personal integrity. 

Second, under the Convention, contracting states have a positive obligation to take steps to ensure the full enjoyment by children of their rights.

Third, the content of contracting states’ positive obligations under Article 19 of the Convention is informed by their co-existing obligations under international environmental law, including the Paris Agreement, and should be guided by the best available science. The IACtHR has recognised that it can “interpret any treaty as long as it is directly related to the protection of rights in a member state”, and was invited to adopt the Brazilian Supreme Court’s position that the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement are indeed “directly related to the protection of human rights in a Member State”. 

Fourth, the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, in light of best available science, require rapid and deep reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, and enhanced carbon sinks, to limit global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees.

Fifth, the Convention therefore requires contracting states to take all reasonable mitigation measures within their control to:

  1. prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system;
  2. protect those within their jurisdiction from the adverse impacts of climate change; and
  3. support global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

The full Amicus Brief and the expert reports can be found here