During the 40th anniversary Conference of Child Rights Connect, Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders under the Aarhus Convention, called on the network to bring the voices of children to the meetings of the Aarhus Convention.

The Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters is an environmental agreement that protects every person’s right to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being.

The 27th meeting of the Working Group of States of the Aarhus Convention, (WG27 meeting) held from 26 to 28 June at the Palais des Nations, in Geneva was our first opportunity to engage.

We circulated the opportunity among the network and partners, and it raised much interest among children and youth from Malaysia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Brazil and Germany and we were able to secure two speaking slots for them! 

Raina, an environmentalist defender and climate justice activist aged 19 and based in Germany, participated in the thematic session on public participation in decision-making at the national level. She brought the issue of criminalization of climate activists, including children and youth. She called for the voices of children and youth to be heard and “to ensure that children and youth are always consulted, in decision-making at the national level”, without fear. She highlighted that children are most affected by climate change and she gave the example of Pakistan where their right to education is threatened by climate change hindering them to meaningfully participate in these discussions.You can read her full statement here.

Catarina, a 16-year-old global climate activist had the opportunity to deliver a statement during the thematic session on the promotion of public participation in international forums. She called for effective processes of implementation of civil society participation with special attention to the inclusion of children and youth in negotiations at international forums. She advocated “for national delegations to consult the public and especially children and youth beforehand. She also emphasizedthe importance of involving children and youth on these international forums, not as passive observers, but as active participants.” You can read her full statement here.

Ahead of the WG27 meeting, we organized a call among the children interested to identify the major issues to be included in the statements and coordinate the delivery. In addition to the official statements, Kezia, a child activist from Indonesia, prepared a video statement and the children from Pakistan wrote a public statement.  

Constanza Martinez, from Save the Children, also delivered a statement on behalf of Child Rights Connect’s Working Group on children’s rights and the environment, during the session focusing on balanced and equitable participation and different modalities for engaging stakeholders in international decision-making.  She mentioned the Working Group’s interest in working together with the Aarhus Convention, “the temple of environmental democracy”, to enhance children’s participation in its meetings and in international fora. You can read her full statement here.

This meeting was a first step towards a long-term strategic collaboration between the child rights community, children and the Aarhus Convention to actively bring children’s voices to its discussions and to partner with the Convention and jointly work towards a meaningful and safe participation of children throughout all UN discussions. As a result, the outcomes of the WG27 meeting will include a recommendation on the threats that child and youth environmental defenders face.  You can access the document here.

As next steps, Michel Forst is planning to have around three consultations by the end of the year 2023, in which he wants to include youth and children’s representatives!