A UN panel said it could not immediately rule on a complaint by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and others that inaction on climate change constitutes a violation of children’s rights.
The committee, made up of 18 independent human rights experts, said on Monday it found a “sufficient causal link” between the harm allegedly suffered by children and the omissions of five states.
However, it accepted the countries’ argument that the children should have brought their case to national courts first.
“You were successful on some aspects but not on others,” the committee told the youth activists in a letter, in which it saluted their “courage and determination”.
“We hope that you will be empowered by the positive aspects of this decision, and that you will continue to act in your own countries and regions and internationally to fight for justice on climate change,” it said.
The complaint was filed in 2019 with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child by 15 activists, aged between eight and 17 at the time, from 12 countries. It argued France, Turkey, Brazil, Germany, and Argentina had known about the risk of climate change for decades but failed to curb their carbon emissions.
The panel had been conducting hearings and deliberating since.
Ramin Pejan, a senior lawyer with Earthjustice – which helped bring the case, said he was “disappointed” with the committee’s decision on admissibility.
But Margaretha Wewerinke, an international lawyer focused on environmental justice, said the case had “broken new ground in climate litigation and will no doubt inform future efforts to protect rights against climate change”.
Climate litigation cases invoking human rights have been on the rise. The UN Human Rights Council plunged into the climate crisis last week, recognising the right to a clean environment and creating a special rapporteur on protecting rights threatened by climate change, just weeks before the COP26 summit set to start in Glasgow on October 31.
The rapporteur will be tasked with identifying how the adverse effects of climate change affected the full enjoyment of human rights, and making recommendations on how to prevent those effects.
Environmentalists are worried the policies formulated at the 26th annual UN summit will not go far enough to significantly slash carbon emissions and slow the warming of the planet.
Thousands of protesters marched in Brussels on Sunday to demand the adoption of bold and far-reaching policies by member states.
The summit is seen as one of the last chances to put the brakes on climate change and avert environmental catastrophe.