Environmental Rights

A child protection issue

Peter Milne looks at  how the environment is an integral aspect of the struggle to promote human and particularly children’s rights.

Seminar and city dump

About two years ago I organised and facilitated a four-day seminar in Jakarta on Children and Environmental Rights.

Delegates in Jakarta

The most effective sessions for the delegates were the ones that brought the groups together to discuss practical ideas related to environmental problems. These included examples of effective approaches when supporting children’s understanding of environmental issues and the communication of their ideas. Delegates particularly enjoyed the two sessions with the school children; sharing a voice and a context was invaluable.

However, the visit to the city dump site, where a community had developed and a school evolved, brought us into the reality of what the seminar was all about. So what was it all about?

Environment and rights

There is an intimate link between the physical environments that children and youth occupy and the quality of their lives. Their housing, the water they drink, the air they breathe, the traffic on their streets and the quality of their schools and neighborhoods all have an impact on their health, happiness and long term development.

In many ways, and for a number of reasons, these effects are more pronounced or different for children than they are for adults. The significance of these environmental influences on girls and boys tends to be poorly understood, and is often overlooked in the policy and programming that affect children.

Environmental protection and human rights are interrelated, interconnected and mutually responsive; both of them are intended to enhance the wellbeing of humanity. A safe and healthy environment is the pre-condition for the enjoyment of fundamental human rights.

Linking human rights with the environment creates a rights-based approach to environmental protection that places the people harmed by environmental degradation at its centre. Articulating the fundamental rights of people with respect to the environment creates the opportunity to secure those rights through bodies focused on human rights in an international forum as well as at a national level.

Children and climate change

Children in communities around the world are already experiencing the impacts of climate change; more than 600 million children live in the ten countries most exposed to climate change. Children are the least responsible for the causes of climate change and yet are the most vulnerable and bear the most significant impacts.

Present and projected impacts include: reduced water access, increased malnutrition due to droughts, more desertification and floods, increased incidence and spreading of disease and extreme climate events. Heatwaves, predicted to become more frequent and intense, affect infants and children most, as they are less able to regulate body heat. Drought, also on the rise, will increase hunger and malnourishment, as well as contribute to displacement.

World awareness

GLP mind map from students at Winklebury School

Since 2012, 177 of the world’s 193 UN member nations have recognized the right to a healthy environment through their constitution, environmental legislation, court decisions or ratification of an international agreement.

Whether this right is actually a reality in these countries is another question, and this is why education and a greater understanding of how children’s rights are linked to the way we treat the environment are critical Interestingly, the right to a healthy environment led to national laws, with regard to Environmental Education, in the Philippines, Armenia and Brazil. Courts in India, Argentina and Philippines ordered governments to develop and implement Environmental Education programmes.

Globally, there are some excellent programmes available to schools, such as the Eco-Schools Programme  http://www.ecoschools.global/ and Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots https://www.rootsandshoots.org/aboutus, which both provide a solid framework for the development of practical ideas and solutions within school communities.

Getting involved

For me, personally and professionally, the seminar in Jakarta had a profound effect because it created a much stronger understanding of how children’s basic rights were being undermined by the damage being done to the environment, and this, in turn, led to a greater determination to use one of those rights (education) to help support the others.

This has evolved into a Global Learning Programme course that is being offered free to state funded schools in England- https://glp.globaldimension.org.uk/calendar/course/10700

So what can you do as teachers?

The reasons for teachers to build Environmental Education and Rights Based Learning into their classroom activities are numerous. Environmental and children’s rights concepts offer an exciting context for the application of scientific principles, math and language skills, and social studies skills. Every community has environmental concerns, as well as community resources to aid exploring those concerns.

5 Good Ways to Get Involved:
  1. Join one of the programmes mentioned above
  2. Create an open discussion with teachers and students on these issues
  3. Become familiar with the Sustainable Development Goals and the resources provided
  4. Read about and be inspired by the case study of Costa Rica and the Right to a Healthy Environment- https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/ethics-and-environmentalism-costa-ricas-lesson
  5. Seek help and support- there is lots out there!


Peter Milne

To learn more about the work that Peter Milne does, please contact him at peter@target4green.com and click on the logo below.

Peter’s latest newsletter: http://mailchi.mp/020fb7daf3e1/global-outreach-grows-for-sustainability-education-1503181?e=dcf1494c03 






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