Experts urge for an end to preventing young individuals from being involved in legal proceedings related to climate issues.
Campaigners argue that young individuals passionate about addressing climate change should have the right to actively participate in legal proceedings that directly impact them.
Experts have criticized the fact that children are unable to fully engage in legal proceedings related to climate change in most countries, as governments and organizations worldwide are submitting formal comments to the top courts.
Adolescents are especially at risk due to the effects of the climate emergency. In the last six years, a minimum of 43 million children have been forced to relocate due to severe weather phenomena.
The problem is a significant source of ongoing anxiety, even for those not directly involved. According to the top paediatrician in Britain, the climate crisis is a major threat to the physical and emotional well-being of all children.
In light of this, and their inability to impact the political system through voting, youth are becoming more engaged in diverse types of climate activism.
The United Nations human rights committee has declared that children have the privilege to take legal action against governments for issues related to climate change and environmental hazards. Despite this, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has identified obstacles that hinder young individuals from asserting their rights and playing an active role in the legal system.
This matter has gained prominence due to the submission of inquiries for guidance on the environmental emergency to three significant global tribunals.
Even though two infants were present with their mothers at a recent hearing of the international tribunal for the law of the sea in Hamburg, formal testimony was not allowed from several organizations advocating for the rights of youth and the environment.
Kelly Matheson, the deputy director of global climate litigation at Our Children’s Trust, a US nonprofit law firm, attempted to submit a briefing on behalf of 24 young individuals on a Friday afternoon. However, by Monday afternoon, the submission had been denied.
The international court of justice, which was recently given the responsibility of giving an opinion on the climate crisis, has stricter rules for the evidence it will consider. The Pacific Island students who initiated the request are not able to directly take part.
The students have created a guidebook encouraging governments to include “young change-makers” who are addressing climate injustice in their written and spoken presentations to the court. They are also exploring the possibility of adding attachments to state submissions.
In contrast, the inter-American court of human rights, responsible for giving a comparable view on the climate crisis, is much more accessible. It permits written arguments from individuals and encourages the participation of young people.
According to Ashfaq Khalfan, who is the director of climate justice at Oxfam America, legal action can be costly and challenging for all parties involved, but it is particularly difficult for young individuals. Khalfan, who has assisted in drafting legal interventions in multiple climate-related cases, believes that it is the duty of the courts to ensure that access to justice is available for all.
According to Ann Skelton, a legal professor at the University of Pretoria and chair of the CRC, minors are considered to not have the ability to make legal decisions on their own. Therefore, they require consent from their parents. She also stated that it is more challenging for lawyers to explain complex legal ideas to young people in a language they can understand compared to explaining them to adults.
Additionally, Skelton noted that children are frequently not considered to be credible. While there is some recognition in certain countries that children are capable of expressing their opinions, the issue of whether or not their views hold any significance remains a separate matter. In several nations, child involvement simply involves polite listening without much impact.
However, a few individuals were able to present their argument. Six Portuguese youths filed a legal complaint against 32 countries at the European Court of Human Rights, detailing the impact of forest fires and the looming consequences of the climate crisis on their well-being. As a result, these 32 countries were obligated to send legal representatives to defend their actions in court.
A group of young individuals presented testimony in a Montana court, arguing that their state had infringed upon their right to a clean and safe environment. Rikki Held, age 22, led the group and shared the significant alterations she has witnessed on her family’s ranch. As a result of their efforts, they were successful in their case.
Matheson praised Montana for setting a positive precedent. He noted that not only were the court documents detailing their experiences included in the case, but the youth were also given the opportunity to attend the hearing and actively participate. They were able to testify under oath about the impact of climate change on their lives, not just to the judge making the decision, but to the world as well.
The upcoming trial for a youth-led climate case in the US will take place in Hawaii in June, with young plaintiffs once again testifying.
Matheson stated that preventing youth from participating in the world’s leading courts when facing a threat to our existence goes against the core value of ensuring access to justice. He emphasized that these courts have the authority to include diverse perspectives in their proceedings, but are currently failing to do so.
According to Skelton, it is crucial for young individuals to have access to the legal system since they are unable to participate in the political system. She believes that since children are not allowed to vote, they should be able to use civic methods to bring about change. Litigation, although challenging, is one available option for them, so there should be less resistance towards their involvement in it.