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Advancing children's rights in the fight for environmental justice

Climate change is the most burning issue for young activists today according to DR JENNY DRISCOLL, who explores why young people are particularly susceptible to the social and physical effects of environmental degradation and what she sees for children’s rights in the future.

A roundtable co-convened by King’s College London recently discussed innovative strategies for advancing children's rights in climate change litigation. The event on 5 April, which brought together leading academics, legal experts, psychologists and representatives from third-sector organisations, was co-convened by Dr Jenny Driscoll, of the School of Education, Communication & Society and Professor Megan Bowman, of The Dickson Poon School of Law. Dr Jenny Driscoll, Reader in Children's Rights, talks about the event, the impact of environmental changes on young people and what hope she sees for the future.

Why was it important for you to be part of this roundtable?

I’m a member of Generations Together, a group of child rights activists, civil society organisations and academics that exists to support children and young people across the world to realise their rights. The most burning issue youth activists are concerned with right now is climate change. Litigation is a last resort but there has been a recent surge in cases coming to court that are led by or include children and young people triggered by the urgency of the issue and the limited response of governments. It’s a really important way to work towards intergenerational justice by forcing governments and corporations to take responsibility for their actions and inaction – and it also draws attention to the impact of climate change on future generations.

Why are young people particularly susceptible to the social and physical effects of environmental degradation?

There are a number of reasons. First, children’s developing bodies are more vulnerable to the impact of drought and famine and they are less able to survive flooding and other natural disasters. Second, children in affected areas are at greater risk of abuse and exploitation during and after disasters and displacement, including sexual violence, child labour, early marriage and physical punishment as a result of stressors on parents and increasing household deprivation. Third, in the absence of action now, the world is heading for unliveable conditions within the lifetime of children and young people. Finally, we know that many young people are experiencing extreme distress from eco-anxiety.

What kind of creative legal approaches for children's justice can you envisage?

Rights-based litigation in this sphere has only really been seen in the ‘second wave’ since about 2015 and the use of claims based on children’s rights under the UNCRC is still somewhat underdeveloped. There is a right to a clean and healthy environment in some jurisdictions but not all, but this is something that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has recognised in its General Comment 26. In some cases it has been argued that states discriminate against youth if they fail to tackle climate change. There is also scope in some circumstances to argue for a wider range of remedies, as well as legislation to prevent future harm.

What hope do you see for children’s rights in the future?

The climate crisis has brought children’s rights to the fore both because children are disproportionately affected and because of the way young people have responded through activism. In particular, it has highlighted their exclusion from democratic governance – they can’t vote - and their lack of access to justice in many instances, leaving them few options other than protest. Participation – for example at COP 28 - is still often tokenistic, but it is beginning to happen, so I’d say that action around climate change is helping to achieve greater recognition and realisation of children’s rights.


About Dr Jenny Driscoll

Dr Driscoll brings a children’s rights-based approach to child protection, and her background as a barrister specialising in care proceedings fuels commitment to research designed with the wellbeing and rights of children and young people at the fore. She is Programme Director of the MA International Child Rights & Development.

More about the roundtable

The event was held in collaboration with Generations Together, Our Children’s Trust, and the World Council of Churches (WCC) and was funded by a King’s Climate & Sustainability Seed Grant that aimed to foster interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration.

In this story

Jenny Driscoll

Jenny Driscoll

Reader in Children's Rights

Megan Bowman

Megan Bowman

Director of Centre for Climate Law & Governance

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