General Comment on child rights and the environment: How and why should the Committee on the Rights of the Child include MDBs?

In June 2021, the Committee on the Rights of the Child committed to drafting General Comment (GC) No. 26 on children's rights and the environment with a particular focus on climate change. As consultations are now underway, the Committee has a unique window of opportunity to address what Multilateral Development Banks (MDB) should do to uphold child rights and how.

In 2019 sixteen children from around the world submitted a complaint (backed by UN mandate holders) before the Committee on the Rights of the Child, demanding States to take action to protect their present and future rights in the context of climate change. In September 2021, the Committee determined the complaint failed to pass the admissibility requirements. Nonetheless, the Committee found the children’s argument that climate change and related policy decisions are negatively affecting their rights so compelling and urgent that it decided the next General Comment (GC) would cover children's rights and the environment, with a specific focus on climate change. Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) can play a significant role in addressing the climate crisis. However, historically they have fallen far short of the positive contribution they should be making. The Committee should use GC No. 26 to call on MDBs explicitly to prioritize climate mitigation and clarify MDBs' responsibilities and obligations in upholding a safe and healthy environment for children.

What is the Committee's role, and what is the purpose of the GC? 

The Committee is the UN treaty body responsible for monitoring the progress made by States Parties in achieving the realization of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Through the General Comments, the Committee provides authoritative guidance on how to comply with the CRC. GC No. 26 will be published in March 2023 and aims to clarify States’ obligations to address the adverse effects of environmental harm and the climate crisis on children. It also seeks to clarify how children should be able to exercise their rights to information, participation, and access to justice to protect against environmental harm. Consultations for GC No. 26 began in December 2021 and will run until October 2022.

A window of opportunity 

The climate crisis is a child rights crisis. According to UNICEF, one billion children – nearly half of children globally – are at 'extremely high risk' of the impacts of a rapidly changing climate. As MDBs finance development projects that often impact the environment and children's lives, the Committee should actively engage MDBs in the GC No. 26 consultations and include guidance related to MDBs, and States’ participation in MDBs,  in the GC.  

Previous GCs demonstrate the Committee has the authority to engage and guide international institutions such as MDBs. For example, the 2013 GC No. 16 on State obligations regarding the impact of the business sector on children's rights asserted that States must always comply with their obligations under the Convention and its protocols, even when acting as members of international organizations, including “international development, finance, and trade institutions, such as the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization.” It also called upon these international organizations to “have standards and procedures” to prevent and assess risks of harm to children and put in place remedy mechanisms (para. 48). Furthermore, GC No. 16 concluded that States “should not accept loans from international organizations, or agree to conditions set forth by such organizations, if these loans or policies are likely to result in violations of the rights of children” (para. 47).

Building on the precedent set by GC No. 16’s inclusion of MDBs, the new GC No. 26 should address how MDBs design their projects and consider and apply their safeguards. It should also provide concrete guidance on how MDBs should examine the unique impacts that projects and policies could have on children and the environment and offer concrete recommendations on how to prevent and mitigate such impacts.

Recommendations as the consultations move forward

To further clarify the obligations and responsibilities of States and MDBs in protecting and fulfilling child rights, the Committee consultation process for GC No. 26 should serve to: 

  1. Engage with MDBs and civil society organizations (CSOs) that work in the development finance field to assess current impacts of development projects on child rights and the environment and identify lessons learned from project monitoring and implementation. 
  2. Identify concrete recommendations on how MDBs can prevent children from harm resulting from MDB-financed projects and institutionalize creative methods to enable children's engagement throughout MDBs’ project design (including transformative measures and access remedy).

On the other hand, MDBs’ role is to promote development. Therefore, their investments should improve the health and security of future generations and promote a healthy climate. In doing so, MDBs should engage in GC No. 26 consultations and:

  1. Put children at the center of MDB climate change action plans, and have climate change action plans to guide all investments. MDBs should advance the rights of children at each stage of climate policy implementation, including with transparent assessment of how investments today will affect children in the future. For example, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) climate change action plan mentions children (yet no benchmark), but the World Bank’s strategy makes no specific reference to children.
  2. Share challenges and lessons learned on projects’ impacts on children’s right to a healthy environment and seek concrete recommendations from the Committee on upholding the CRC. 
  3. Lead by example and incorporate Committee GC No. 26 recommendations and consultation process debates into their policies and practices to reduce the risk of financing the development of projects that compromise children's rights. 

Read BIC's 2022 responses to the Global Online Questionnaire here.

Read BIC's 2023 submission in English, Spanish, and French.