Swedish teen Greta Thunberg is leading a group of kids in pushing the UN to force climate actionGreta Thunberg, the Swedish teen who inspired worldwide climate strikes, is leading a plea to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to accelerate action on climate change. Photo credit: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images
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By Karen Savage

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and 15 other young people from around the world have filed a human rights complaint against  five countries for continuing to promote fossil fuels and failing to reduce carbon emissions. The group has asked the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to recognize climate change as a children’s rights crisis and wants it to push those five countries—Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey—to accelerate their action on climate change.

“It is our duty as children to do anything no matter the cost to save our planet and to live in a safer world,” said Raslene Joubali, a 17-year-old petitioner from Tunisia.

The petition was filed in New York on Monday to the CRC during the United Nations’ Climate Summit. 

The CRC monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty which protects the human rights of children around the globe. It was signed by every country in the world, except the United States. Of those countries that signed, 45 of them agreed to allow children to petition the UN directly about treaty violations.

The young people, who range in age from 8 to 17, say that  Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey have the highest greenhouse gas emissions among those 45 countries. They are each on a path that will result in planetary warming of between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius. They say none of the five will meet targets intended needed to keep the planet from heating to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius, as agreed to under the Paris Agreement. 

“Climate change is not a problem which any country can solve on its own. All the countries must join their hands together to solve this crisis as it is a global issue,” said Ridhima Pandey, an 11-year-old from India.

Petitioners say they are already suffering from climate change-related impacts, including wildfires, floods, mental anxiety, drought, and threats to their traditional ways of life, such as reindeer herding or fishing.

Deborah Adegbile, a 12-year-old from Lagos, Nigeria, says she has been repeatedly hospitalized due to asthma made worse by hotter temperatures, which worsen the air quality. 

Ranton Anjain, from the Marshall Islands, became sick from dengue fever and David Ackley III, also from the Marshall Islands, recently contracted chikungunya. Both diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes, which thrive in wetter environments.

The CRC, which is made up of 18 independent child rights experts, will determine whether the complaint is admissible and, if so, will gather responses from the named countries. It will then make recommendations to those nations. The recommendations are not legally binding, but the treaty’s signatory nations have agreed to follow the recommendations. The obligations spelled out under the Convention on the Rights of the Child are binding.

“Without transformational change in the next decade, the human rights impact of climate change on the petitioners and more than 2 billion other children will be locked in and irreversible,” said Michael D. Hausfeld, chairman of Hausfeld, an international law firm that along with Earthjustice is representing the petitioners. “What we all must do now is talk less, act more.”

Just prior to announcing the petition, Thunberg had harsh words for world leaders attending the UN Climate Action Summit in New York.

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words and yet I’m one of the lucky ones,” Thunberg said. “People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginnings of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is the money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth – how dare you!”

“For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here say you are doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight,” Thunberg said, appearing to glare in the direction of where President Donald Trump, who made a very brief appearance at the summit, had been seated.

“We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line,” Thunberg said. “The world is waking up and change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

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