Stick men in conversation around a table.

Response to Call for inputs by Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change and “Access to information on climate change and human rights”

June 2024

Established by the Commissioner for Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2003, the Commissioner is responsible for promoting and safeguarding the rights of all children and young people in Scotland, giving particular attention to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The Commissioner has powers to review law, policy and practice and to take action to promote and protect rights. The Commissioner is fully independent of the Scottish Government.

Question 1

What kind of information should be collected and shared to identify and prevent negative impacts on human rights arising from climate change and climate change response measures? What kind of information can be particularly challenging to access and why?

The focus of our submission to these questions will be the experiences of children and young people and the impact these issues have on their human rights. The lack of education on climate change is something which children and young people frequently talk to us about. Whilst there is a Learning for Sustainability Plan[1] in Scotland, we do not see that this is properly implemented. Education requires to be age appropriate and accessible depending on different stages of development.

Children and young people need to be taught about the factual and scientific basis of topics like climate change and biodiversity loss, these are subjects they clearly want to learn more about. One young person told us;

“There was not enough education provided so I went out and researched it, I didn’t get taught in school” (CYPCS Young Advisor).

It is felt that PSE[2] could play a major role, teaching about social responsibility. We hear that if you take higher level biology or geography then climate change will be covered but often this is not in a context applicable to Scotland, it might highlight species and habitat loss in other countries. In these subjects, things are treated as facts to learn for exams and they comment that it is hard to share opinions on this in class. They want more education on what they can do in everyday life – ‘teach us how we can help’.

This call for better education on climate change was also reflected in the recent work of the Children’s Parliament in Scotland in relation to COP26[3]. They reflected that many primary school age children felt they had received little or no education on climate change. One child told them;

“I don’t remember learning anything about climate change at school, so I don’t know how it affects human rights.’

There have been some good examples of projects which aim to educate and involve children and young people (such as Nature Scot’s Learning in Local Greenspace project[4] and Scotland’s Junior Rangers) but more needs to be done to create these opportunities for all children in Scotland.

Children and young people are often given a disproportionate amount of information and education on individual responsibility. A great deal of responsibility is placed on them to make personal changes, sometimes even when adults around them seem unwilling to make changes themselves. Personal changes are only one part of the process and a lot of the changes that need to happen are at a more systemic level by governments or industries.

‘It’s frustrating we change our lifestyles but it’s discouraging, It’s caused by big companies – not by average people’(Child, CYPCS Strategic Plan consultation response)

As part of this information, they need education which relates to their ability to hold governments and decision makers accountable. This should include understanding structures of government and decision making, who holds sway over policies that are met and how to influence these. This should include information on complaints procedures and other remedies. The power to change things and reduce emissions lies with governments and industries. Those who make, or have made, the most emissions need to bear the most responsibility. We should ensure that children and young people have meaningful opportunities to engage in the evaluation of law and policy relating to climate change, often consultations on these matters are not available in child friendly formats and there is a lack of engagement with them.

We have seen that children and young people are keen and motivated to be engaged in such policy and law review through our recent engagement with them on Scottish Government consultations. These include a response to the Biodiversity Strategy and the Climate Adaptation Plan[5].

This should also include information of becoming human rights defenders and their rights on attending protests or taking part in other environmental activism. In the lead up to COP26 our office made available resources to support children and young people taking part in such activities[6].

A number of these points were encapsulated within the work of ENOC (European Network of Ombudspersons for Children) when they chose to work on the topic of climate change in 2022. To inform this work children and young people from ENOC member states/regions take part via the ENYA (European Network of Young Advisors) project. Young Advisors from Scotland attended the ENYA Forum, where all the participants representing their country/region came together to discuss and agree a final set of recommendations.

The ENYA recommendations were then incorporated into a position statement “Children’s Rights and Climate Justice”, adopted by the ENOC 26th General Assembly, 21 September 2022,[7] the points relating to education and information are included below.

ENOC further urges States; national, regional, European and international authorities; and all other relevant authorities to adopt the following recommendations:

Provide human rights education, including on the environment, to children, youngsters, and adults

• Ensure comprehensive and mandatory human rights education, including on children’s rights, for children at all stages of education;

• Ensure the right to a healthy environment, including on climate change and respect for biodiversity, is on human rights education curricula. As ENYA recommends, it should start in early childhood and it should include active learning methods such as excursions, workshops, debates and peer education;

• Ensure that children’s rights education covers children’s civil and political rights and equips them with the knowledge and skills to take action to claim and defend human rights, including the right to a healthy environment;

• Provide teachers and other school staff with the necessary training and resources to deliver effective children’s rights education, including on the right to a healthy environment;

• Ensure that human rights education, including the right to a healthy environment, is provided to adults such as professionals and parents;

• Involve children in organising media activities, campaigns and designing curricula/ pedagogies which enhance children’s understanding of and respect for the natural environment.

Respect the right to seek, receive and impart information for children

• Ensure that all children are able to enjoy their right to seek, receive and impart reliable information about the environment and climate change;

• As ENYA emphasises, require public bodies to provide public information on the environment/ climate change in formats that are child-friendly and accessible;

• Provide safe spaces and opportunities for children to share information and views on the environment/ climate change in a range of formats, including the facilitation of ‘networking possibilities that allow for exchange of ideas’ as proposed by ENYA;

• Ensure that any restrictions on children’s rights to seek, receive and impart information are lawful, necessary and proportionate;

• Facilitate access to reliable information in climate change by providing information and training on media literacy and critical thinking, and fighting fake news with truthful’

Question 2

Are existing approaches to collect, share and monitor information on climate change and human rights sufficient for the public to assess the magnitude of actual and potential negative impacts on their human rights, and the adequacy of States’ responses to these risks? How can these approaches be improved?

From our conversations with children and young people these are not sufficient.

Question 3

Are there undue barriers to obtain access to information on human rights and climate change that is up to date? (eg, language and technical accessibility, use of technology, grounds for non-disclosure, other?)

There are barriers for children and young people to obtain access to such information.

As we have discussed above, there is a lack of education provided in schools regarding climate change. If this education on climate change is not provided within their schools, then they would need to rely on other adults in their life teaching them, they might seek to carry out their own research or attend extracurricular activities.

The availability or ability to do these things can be impacted if a child or young person is experiencing poverty. Digital poverty can impact on access to resources, this can be lacking the devices to access the internet or being unable to afford to pay for internet services[8]. Experiencing poverty is also a barrier to taking part in extracurricular activities. As children experiencing poverty are disproportionately affected by climate change, it is all the more important they receive this information.

If information is not available in child friendly or accessible formats this will also act as a barrier.

Children and young people are particularly susceptible to physical and mental health related issues because of climate change, which itself can act as a barrier.

They have limited political power, they cannot vote for parties that would introduce green policies. There is a perception amongst some children that because their votes are not counted, political parties will not aim their policies at them as a group. 

They lack autonomy and decision-making power in their own homes and communities. They cannot decide on whether the family home will change to a ‘clean heating system’ or have a compost bin. They cannot control what happens in community spaces or how councils will spend their budgets.

Question 6

What are the impacts on human rights of inadequate access to information from public authorities and/or business? Are there concrete examples of, or specific challenges in, collecting and sharing information on disproportionate levels of actual and potential harm from climate change and climate change response measures (disaggregated data on Indigenous Peoples, women, children, local communities, persons with disabilities, older persons, persons living in extreme poverty, others)?

In the UNCRC, State parties agreed that the education of children and young people shall be directed to, among other things, the development of respect for the natural environment (art. 29). As such, failure to provide this information is a breach of their rights.

A number of other UNCRC rights, which are now incorporated into Scots law, are engaged here, including;

Article 6 – the right to life and development.

Article 24 – the right to good quality health care and a clean environment.

Article 27 – the right to a decent standard of living, including food, housing, water.

The UN Committee on Rights of the Child highlighted the importance of these issues in its General Comment No. 26 (2023)[9] which focused on children’s rights and the environment;

‘Children should be provided with environmental and human rights education, age-appropriate and accessible information, adequate time and resources and a supportive and enabling environment. They should receive information about the outcomes of environment-related consultations and feedback on how their views were taken into account and have access to child-sensitive complaint procedures and remedies when their right to be heard in the environmental context is disregarded.’

This was reflected in the most recent Concluding Observations on the UK by the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child who stressed that the UK needed to ensure education through ‘active participation of schools’ on climate change, to raise children’s awareness. This should include; ‘awareness-raising for children on relevant climate legislation and their right to a clean environment and the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health’.[10]

In a recent report, a UN Special Rapporteur on the environment highlighted the extent of the obligations on states to provide education to support respect for the natural world.[11] They outlined that;

‘Environmental education should begin early in the child’s educational process, reflect the child’s culture, language and environmental situation, and increase the child’s understanding of the relationship between humans and the environment.’

Failure to provide children and young people with education on their rights directly affects the child’s ability to enjoy or realise these rights. This can itself exacerbate the impacts of climate change as they do not have the necessary means to challenge breaches.

Childrens rights are indivisible and interdependent – if one is not fulfilled then they cannot fully realise the others. A failure to fulfil the right to information on climate change will exacerbate other rights breaches and deepen inequalities caused by climate change. A clean, healthy and sustainable environment is both a human right itself and necessary for the full enjoyment of a broad range of children’s rights. This education is needed to respect, protect and fulfil the right of children and young people to a healthy environment.

The impact on physical health is of great concern. The World Health Organisation states that climate change presents a ‘fundamental threat to human health’[12], children and young people are aware of this and describe to us their worries that climate change will have on their ability to access clean air and water alongside the availability of healthy and nutritious food.  We know that climate change exacerbates child health inequalities,[13] children are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution including an increase in asthma, poorer lung function and negative impact on their growth and development. They are more vulnerable to extreme weather such as heat waves and flooding. An impact of climate change includes rising energy costs, meaning families are struggling to heat their homes. Children, especially infants, are more susceptible to the effects of mould in homes.[14]

Climate change is having an impact on the mental health of children and young people, climate anxiety is something we regularly hear about.

‘Sometimes I get quite sad because it’s overwhelming’ (CYPCS Young Advisor).

We still care but it makes us anxious and we give up trying(Child, CYPCS Strategic Plan consultation response)

Some children report to us that they feel disempowered and burnt out.  They feel they have made their voices heard but those in power have not acted.

A recent survey by Young Scot has shown that climate change is one of the top issues worrying young people today.[15]

There are some particular and disproportionate impacts that climate change may bring to children, young people and their families who are experiencing poverty. There are rising food prices after food production is affected by weather disruption.[16] If changes to the weather become more severe – whether this is more extremes in temperature or damage from flood or wind damage – the costs of adapting will be much harder for families to meet. We recently wrote about this in our response to the proposed Heat in Buildings Bill Consultation.[17]

A lack of education or information relating to climate change can act as an indirect driver of climate change and biodiversity loss. Without the right resources and education it can lead to patterns of unsustainable production and consumption through a lack of understanding. A focus on cultivating overall changes in culture and behaviour should include how children and young people learn about and engage with the environment around them.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) highlighted that people’s disconnection to nature leads to a lack of value and importance being placed on it.[18] This is itself an indirect driver of biodiversity loss, Children and young people need to be taught, not just about nature, but what they can do to help it.

Although 76% of children and young people felt nature was important to them, the vast majority were not involved in any nature or conservation activities.[19] A lack of education and relevant opportunities have been highlighted as contributing to this. It has been shown that there is a relationship between the amount of time a young person spends outdoors and their attitudes towards enjoying and protecting the natural environment.[20]

When they are provided with the right level of knowledge and opportunities to connect with nature – they can see things adults don’t – suggest innovative approaches and give independent views. They have an important and active part to play in shaping the future they want to see. Children and young people need to understand their environment alongside their rights.


[1] Learning for sustainability: action plan 2023 to 2030 – gov.scot (www.gov.scot)

[2] Personal and Social Education

[3] Childrens-Parliament_Climate_Assembly_2021.pdf (childrensparliament.org.uk)

[4] The Learning in Local Greenspace project | NatureScot

[5] Response to Scottish Government Consultation on ‘Tackling the Nature Emergency – Strategic Framework for Biodiversity’. – The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland (cypcs.org.uk), Response to the Climate Change Adaptation Plan Consultation.  – The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland (cypcs.org.uk)

[6] Climate justice – The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland (cypcs.org.uk)

[7] https://enoc.eu/wp-content/uploads/ENOC-Statement-on-Climate-Justice-2022-FV.pdf

[8] 3. Strategic Case – Connecting Scotland programme: full business case – gov.scot (www.gov.scot)

[9] CRC/C/GC/26: General comment No. 26 (2023) on children’s rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change | OHCHR

[10] Concluding observations on the combined 6th and 7th periodic reports of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland :

[11] Children’s rights and the environment | OHCHR

[12] Climate change (who.int)

[13] Child health inequalities and climate change in the UK – position statement | RCPCH

[14] Death of two-year-old from mould in flat a ‘defining moment’, says coroner | Housing | The Guardian

[15] Young people share their views at Big Survey webinar – Young Scot Corporate – the results of the full survey are unpublished at date of this response. Please contact Young Scot for further info.

[16] Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit | Climate, Fossil Fuels and UK… (eciu.net)

[17] Proposals for a Heat in Buildings Bill: Consultation response – The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland (cypcs.org.uk)

[18] Key pressures on biodiversity | NatureScot

[19] Young Scot Corporate – Young People and Nature Text Only

[20] Young Scot Corporate – Young People and Nature Text Only

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