Embedding children’s ideas into decisions making to create a positive future for our climate.

Written by Rachel Nixseaman, ERCS member, Network and Delivery Manager with Democratic Society, and CLD Standards Council for Scotland Associate. 

With the upcoming implementation of UNCRC into Scot’s Law, Scotland has the opportunity to embed children’s environmental rights into legislation, supporting children and young people to have access to a healthy environment. Article 24 of the UNCRC states “Governments must provide …clean water, nutritious food, and a clean environment…”. The Human Rights (Scotland) Bill will also include ‘the human right to a healthy environment’. There is a need, now, to protect children’s environmental rights explicitly, with no ambiguity or room for misinterpretation, and to have it be enforceable. That’s why the Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland has launched a petition to support the drive for an enforceable right to a healthy environment in Scots law. Please take a moment to sign it and share it far and wide. 

Many children and young people have taken a strong and involved stance in the fight against climate change and have demanded a healthy environment for their futures. We regularly see them in school strikes, marching for awareness, pushing for climate education, and identifying innovative solutions to modern challenges. Children and young people are talking in this space, but are they really being heard?  

Organisations, schools, businesses, and policymakers need to go beyond paying children and young people lip service and start truly paying attention to the ground-breaking work that children and young people are undertaking in Scotland, ensuring that children’s rights are not forgotten. Third sector organisations are creating platforms for children and young people to be heard at all levels, influencing, and shaping services as users, advisors, trustees, staff, etc. Truly listening to children and young people’s ideas and incorporating them into a decision-making process offers a myriad of benefits. Not only does it create meaningful community engagement and ensure no one is left behind, it means children and young people can offer imaginative answers to modern-day challenges. Children’s flexibility, adaptability, and creativity are unique assets that should be utilised. 

Supporting children to engage with important community conversations results in creative and insightful solutions, unburdened by red tape and barriers which so often plague adults during a similar process. Adults might focus on existing (unsuitable) infrastructure or policy, worry about how uncomfortable change can be, or be haunted by failed attempts at change in the past. Children and young people can see global challenges such as the climate crisis, and address this challenge with flexible approaches, leading to systemic changes. There are countless examples of children and young people from ages five to 25 working together to protect their environmental rights and lead their communities in taking climate action, including educational programmes with 2050 Climate Group, national campaigns like Sunnyside Primary Eco School and Children’s Parliament Investigators recommendations as part of Scotland’s Climate Assembly, and ongoing conservation projects such as the Young People’s Forest. Young people are showing themselves to be champions and leaders of climate initiatives from local to international levels. These children-led and youth-led projects are built on a foundation of environmental rights and a co-design approach.  

The incorporation of the UNCRC and the Human Rights (Scotland) Bill is an opportune time to embed children’s environmental rights into Scot’s law, underpinning Scottish Government’s ambition that Scotland will be the best place for children to grow up. Policymakers, employers, businesses, schools, and charities should continue to use a co-design approach to embed children’s ideas into decisions, working towards full systems change and a positive future for our climate.  

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