Climate strike letter to education leaders

The Children and Young People’s Commissioner, Bruce Adamson has written to Directors of Education from every local authority urging them to support children taking part in the global action against climate change on Friday 20th September. The text of his letter is below:

17 September 2019

Dear Education Leaders,

I am writing to urge you to support the young human rights defenders within your school should they choose to join the action on the global climate crisis. Your vital support recognises the importance of the courageous actions that children and young people are making to protect human rights and their own education in practice.

The education of children and young people is one of the most important human rights obligations that we have. Education must also ensure that they are supported to develop an understanding of human rights and a respect for the natural environment.

Choosing to strike will undoubtedly have a short-term impact on children and young people’s school-based learning. However, their actions as human rights defenders in bringing attention to the threat of climate change and their demands for those in power to take radical action is part of their broader education. It is important that we support those who choose to strike. They must not be punished for doing so.

I note that Scottish Youth Climate Strikes will be running a “Day of Education” next week to supplement the work they have already been doing, and that two of the four key demands in Scotland relate specifically to education – both on the curriculum and for the general public.

Last week the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, addressed the global community on climate change, stating:

“The world has never seen a threat to human rights of this scope. This is not a situation where any country, any institution, any policymaker can stand on the sidelines. The economies of all nations; the institutional, political, social and cultural fabric of every State; and the rights of all your people – and future generations – will be impacted.”

While a number of schools have taken a positive approach to this issue and enable students to exercise their right to freedom of association, peacefully, we have been concerned to hear that some students have been threatened with detention or other punishment for undertaking ‘climate strikes’. I urge you to reject this approach.

Instead, we should be proud that children and young people have the courage to demonstrate their commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent and acute human rights issue. I welcome their passion and commitment that they are heard. Children and young people do not have the same political or economic power as adults, but by acting as human rights defenders, raising their voices and demanding change, they are demonstrating the power of their voices.

Earlier this year a group of young human rights defenders working with my office laid a report before Parliament entitled Promote, Protect, Defend. The report highlights the importance of climate change as a human rights issue for them. In the report they made a number of recommendations to public bodies, including:

  • Publicly recognising the role of children as human rights defenders,
  • Embedding human rights and human rights defenders’ education in children and young people’s learning, and
  • Protecting children human rights defenders who engage in activism and peaceful protest.

It is important that when young people take these peaceful and powerful actions, they are not silenced, discouraged or punished. I trust that you as education leaders will recognise the importance of this urgent global issue and will ensure that the children and young people taking part in climate strikes are given the support they are entitled to.

Yours sincerely,

Bruce Adamson

Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland