Climate change, species extinction and environmental pollution are now among the greatest challenges of our time, and are increasingly been seen by children and adolescents as a threat to their present and future. The ‘Fridays for Future’ movement has also been very widely adopted by children and adolescents in Germany; they participate in the protests in their thousands, form more than 500 local groups, and make concrete demands of German policymakers. The reports by the United Nations Special Rapporteur regarding human rights obligations in relation to a clean and healthy environment, and the results of the General Day of Discussion held by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on the topic of ‘Children’s rights and the environment’, also illustrate the growing relevance of environmental issues. Young people in Germany are highly aware of the environment, and are increasingly shifting towards a sustainability mindset.
Irrespective of this, children in Germany are already exposed to hazards right from the womb and early childhood, e.g. through waste, pesticides, residue in food and water, and other sources of environmental pollution that can have direct and long-term consequences. Systematic data on children’s exposure to pollutants has been collected as part of the German Environmental Survey for Children and Adolescents conducted by the German Federal Environment Agency, and the German KiGGS studies on the health of children and adolescents. They show that the young generation is particularly at risk of environmentally related health problems, such as respiratory disorders and allergies. But it is primarily in developing countries that environmental pollution and climate change are deteriorating living conditions for children and adolescents. Extreme droughts, poor harvests and floods are intensifying famines, migration, armed conflict and the outbreak of diseases such as malaria and diarrhoeal diseases in many regions of the world.
Young people must be informed and be able to participate in future-focused discussions and decisions affecting them. This requires preparing information and giving them platforms to participate. To date, child-friendly environmental education and appropriate activities for sustainable development as per the ‘Education for sustainable development’ National Action Plan have been inadequate in Germany, even though young people are increasingly calling for these.
- The National Coalition Germany recommends that the UN Committee call on the German federal government to
- 34. Uphold the Paris Agreement, taking into account the 1.5-degree target;
- 35. Integrate children’s rights into the national and international climate strategy;
- 36. Increasingly focus its environmental policy and protection activities on children’s rights, also taking into account the economic activities of German businesses worldwide and the externalisation of environmental costs;
- 37. take into account greater and more effective protection of children’s environmental rights as part of international and development cooperation and call for stronger protection;
- 38. Uphold the right to high-quality education, and effectively and comprehensively implement the ‘Education for sustainable development’ National Action Plan’ with appropriate financing.