Images: Maria Farinha Filmes
Advocacy and Children’s Rights Communication and Education

ABOUT US

Alana is a socio-environmental impact organization that promotes children’s rights to integral development and fosters new forms of well being. Therefore is organized into three fronts: the Alana Institute, the AlanaLab, and the Alana Foundation.

Alana Institute – a non-profit civil society organization – was born with the mission to “honor the children” and is the origin of all the work that began in 1994 in Jardim Pantanal, a vulnerable community in the city of São Paulo’s eastern outskirts. The Institute today has its own programs and with partners – all of which you can find out more about below – and is supported by the income from an endowment fund since 2013.

AlanaLab is Alana core business, with a focus on impact and innovation. It participates in the management of the group’s businesses, of which it is also a partner. Currently, these businesses are the Maria Farinha Filmes production company, the impact distributor Flow, and the extended reality production company JungleBee. It also acts as an accelerator for projects by the Institute and the Foundation, and is responsible for the Alana group’s Impact investment portfolio. The dividends earned by AlanaLab are allocated in full to the endowment that funds Alana’s projects.

Alana Foundation is an independent philanthropic organisation founded in 2012 in the United States. The Foundation supports initiatives in the areas of environment, inclusive education and health science research through grants and co-funding partnerships. It also engages with networks and global movements in those areas.

ALANA INSTITUTE

ALANALAB

ALANA FOUNDATION

WE SUPPORT

It is through play, and perhaps only through play, that children and adults use their creative freedom

Donald Winnicott, British pediatrician and psychoanalyst

Prejudice is the fear of the unknown. That is why we should help children learn not only with those like them, but also with those who are different from them.

Ana Lucia Villela, President of Alana 

Children could – and should – be the protagonists of the changes they want to see in the world  

Kiran Bir Sethi, Creator of Design for Change, Criativos da Escola in Brazil

An ounce of passion is worth as much education as you can ever imagine. Kids that are passionate will continue to learn forever.

Joi Ito, Director of MIT Media Lab

Man’s greatest gift is his incompleteness. In this, I am wealthy. (…) I intend to renew man using butterflies.”

Manoel de Barros, Brazilian poet

Creative, innovative, compassionate, balanced, responsible and productive citizens only exist if our society provides a healthy environment for childhood development.

Ana Lucia Villela, President of Alana

INSPIRATIONS

What is environmental racism?

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Have you noticed who are often the populations most affected by the effects of the climate crisis? In many places around the world, racial/ethnic populations in situations of vulnerability are often among the main victims of large city floods, landslides, prolonged droughts and other extreme events caused by global warming. These impacts, which threaten adults and children in different ways, are at the heart of what we call environmental racism.

The term was coined in the 1980s by African-American activist and civil rights advocate Dr. Benjamin Franklin Chavis Jr. He developed the concept at a time of demonstrations by the black movement against environmental injustices in the United States, referencing the unequal way in which the most vulnerable communities are exposed to environmental phenomena and are distanced from decision-making. Since then, confronting socio-environmental inequalities has become an important part of the anti-racist struggle.

– Read also: How does racism reveal itself in the climate crisis and affects childhood?

In 2021, the issue gained even more attention when it was raised by activists at the COP 26 debates in Glasgow, Scotland. There, representatives of the black and indigenous movements in Brazil denounced the problem and demanded effective actions from world leaders. They argued that it is not possible to separate the environmental struggle from the recognition and respect for native peoples and the most vulnerable, and that climate justice must go hand in hand with racial justice.

The issue is also present in the inequalities between the global north and south, a consequence of the processes of colonialism, neoliberalism and globalization. Even today, the arrival of large enterprises in the countries of the global south often leads to the displacement of native populations from their territories, destroying their cultures and impacting the environment.

Environmental racism can be observed from the cities to the countryside. Subject to this history of inequalities are Brazil’s favelas, for example. Although 84% of the Brazilian population lives in urban areas, most of the conflicts in the country are related to climate justice. A study conducted by Fiocruz revealed that over 60% of the conflicts affect precisely the populations that live in the fields, forests and coastal zones. In these areas, the disputes for natural resources are linked to Brazil’s insertion in the international trade, generally with environmentally aggressive practices and resulting in direct impacts on low-income populations and ethnic minorities.

– Read also: ‘School is where the first experiences with racism happen’

The issue, which especially affects black, indigenous and Maroon children, led more than 220 civil society organizations to sign a manifesto against environmental racism at COP 26. At the occasion, the Black Coalition for Rights recalled that the climate crisis is also humanitarian and has a direct impact on the lives of black, Maroon and indigenous populations.

“In Brazil, the majority of the population is black and currently represents 56% of the population. To deny environmental racism is to deny that the Brazilian State is racist. It is to deny the reality of life in the peripheries of large cities, the increase in hunger. It is to deny the violation of the constitutional rights of communities, Maroon territories and indigenous lands. It is to deny the country’s history of urbanization and its deep territorial inequalities,” stated the Coalition in the document.

Nonetheless, Brazil did not recognize the concept of environmental racism at the UN. During a session of the Human Rights Council held in 2021, representatives of the Brazilian government questioned the use of the term, arguing that this was not an “internationally recognized” terminology. For the current government, the relationship between environmental problems and social issues, such as racism, should have a “balanced and integrated approach to the social, economic and environmental dimensions”.

The result is a lack of information about environmental racism in the country, while possible solutions are often discussed only superficially. It is important that we start looking at our past, our present and call things by their real names.

– Read also: Alana brings the reality of childhoods in the face of climate emergency to COP27

It is true that extreme weather events impact everyone, but there is no denying the persistent and structural grouping of those who are most affected. Within this web of vulnerabilities, the black, Maroon, fishing, peripheral, indigenous and riverside populations, especially their children, are paying the highest price. It is necessary to bring the people who suffer climate injustices to the center of the decision-making processes. Only then will it be possible to guarantee a habitable planet for children in the present.

– Read also: Environmental justice: children are the most affected by degradation

Protecting nature and children: legal actions on the climate crisis in Brazil

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In recent years, Brazil has seen fires and deforestation increase at a rapid pace and advance over several biomes. While the inspection agencies, responsible for curbing and preventing these problems, are being dismantled, funds to finance preservation programs are being frozen. This context has led the country to increasingly judicialize the climate crisis. That is, both political parties and civil society organizations have filed lawsuits with the Brazilian Supreme Court to try to contain the setbacks in the environmental agenda and protect nature and children.

– See also: Childhoods between screens and nature

In 2022, the Brazilian Supreme Court received seven filed actions related to the guarantee of socio-environmental preservation measures, in the so-called “green package“. The Alana Institute participated in three of these actions as amicus curiae (friend of the court), with the function of providing subsidies to the ruling body. It brought to the case records the voice of children, who are interested parties because they are part of one of the most vulnerable groups to the effects of climate emergency.

“In these more than 400 drawings and letters that we delivered to your Excellencies (Ministers), the children are unanimous in asking that nature be cared for and preserved. For us, from the Alana Institute, protecting nature is taking care of Brazilian children with absolute priority“, stated lawyer Angela Barbarulo, who coordinated the Climate Justice and Socio-Environmental axis of the Children and Nature program, from the Alana Institute, during her oral argument.

– Read also: Children tell the Supreme Court Ministers: give the Amazon a chance!

It is unusual for the highest court in the country to docket so many actions on the same topic in a single session, but the severity of the moment demands it. The deforestation rate in the Amazon rose 73% from 2019 to 2021, according to the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) linked to the Federal Government’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. Deforestation and wildfires have intensified, increasing air pollution and climate destabilization.

According to an Ibope survey, 77% of Brazilians believe that protecting the Amazon should be a priority. By docketing actions related to the environment, the Supreme Court shows that it is connected to the wishes of the country’s population and becomes an essential institution to curb omissions and pressure governments to protect our environment.

– Read also: Is it a climate crisis? Or is it ours?

Recover resources from the Amazon Fund and the Climate Fund

One of the lawsuits docketed by the Brazilian Supreme Court deals with investments in defense of the Amazon. A Direct Action of Unconstitutionality by Omission, ADO 59, was filed because the federal government has paralyzed activities and failed to make available the R$1.5 billion in the Amazon Fund, aimed at financing preservation projects in the Legal Amazon.

The Brazilian government has been making changes to the fund’s format since 2019, extinguishing the technical and guiding committees and preventing them from acting on new projects. For this reason, Minister Rosa Weber proposed that the Union reactivate the Amazon Fund and refrain from making new suspensions. The issue was analyzed this month by the other members of the Court and, by 10 votes to 1, the Ministers determined the resumption of the fund within 60 days.

Among the actions within the Supreme Court’s green package was also the Argument of Noncompliance with a Fundamental Precept, ADPF 708, which dealt with the non-allocation of resources by the federal government for the National Fund on Climate Change (Climate Fund) since 2019. In July of the current year, the majority of the Supreme Court Ministers prohibited the contingency of the fund’s revenues and determined that the Union must adopt the necessary measures for its operation, with the consequent allocation of resources.

Deforestation and dismantling of inspection

Deforestation was also brought to trial before the Court. Seven political parties and ten civil society organizations – among which was the Alana Institute – jointly filed the ADPF 760 in 2020 to demand from the Court the resumption of compliance with the goals established by national legislation and international agreements undertaken by Brazil on climate change.

Rapporteur for the case, Minister Cármen Lúcia voted for the Supreme Court to order the Brazilian authorities to present a plan with goals, actions and budgetary allocations to resume environmental control and inspection activities, as well as to combat crimes in the Amazon, by safeguarding the rights of indigenous peoples. But the final ruling on the matter was suspended by a request for examination by Minister André Mendonça.

The quality standards of the air we breathe

The Direct Action of Unconstitutionality, ADI 6148, was also heard by the Supreme Court. The lawsuit challenges CONAMA Resolution 491 of 2018, which establishes air quality standards. According to the lawsuit, this resolution does not effectively and adequately regulate such standards, being “vague and permissive” and leaving unprotected the fundamental rights to environmental information, the ecologically balanced environment, health and, consequently, life.

The Supreme Court did not recognize the unconstitutionality of the resolution, but determined that CONAMA should update the standard so that it has “sufficient protective capacity for air quality” within two years. If this update is not done, the country will have to use the air quality standards adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Alana Institute, through the Child na Nature program, acted as amicus curiae in ADPF 760, ADO 59 and ADI 6148.

– Read also: Children and nature in the hands of justice

Brazil has also judicialized the crisis in the Pantanal

The climate crisis has also been causing imbalances to the Pantanal, an area of 150 thousand square kilometers between the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, which is home to the largest floodplain on the planet and represents a complex with great biodiversity. Targeted by fires and burning, the Pantanal has also seen its own crisis taken to court.

In ADPF 857, four political parties are asking for a plan and actions to prevent the fires that occurred in the Pantanal in 2020 from happening again in an aggravated manner. They contend that the fire, besides putting at risk a significant amount of wildlife species, advanced over indigenous lands and caused immense economic, social and public health losses for these peoples. The situation, they argue, violates several constitutional principles.

There are other lawsuits with similar objectives filed with the Brazilian Supreme Court. ADPF 743 and 746 have also been filed to force the federal government to comply with measures against the advance and the effects of the fires that are affecting the Amazon and the Pantanal wetlands.

Indigenous health in the pandemic taken to court

Faced with the lack of response from Brazilian institutions and the advance of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, the need for action to protect indigenous peoples has also been judicialized. The Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) joined political parties and civil society organizations and filed, with the Supreme Court, ADPF 709 with the aim of confronting the omission of the federal government in combating the pandemic and demanding measures to protect various ethnic groups. The action requested, for instance, the installation of health barriers in territories where isolated or recently contacted peoples live, in order to protect them.

– See also: Nature is health during childhood

Protecting the environment is protecting the future of children

The socio-environmental and climate mismanagement in Brazil has demanded strong actions from the Justice system, especially to ensure the protection of the rights of those most vulnerable. In this group are children and adolescents, who suffer the effects of climate change in an amplified way.

The analysis of such actions by the Supreme Court must be based on the rights of children and adolescents foreseen in article 227 of the Brazilian Constitution, which ensures their best interests and the absolute priority of their fundamental rights, as well as in article 225, which endows the right to a balanced environment with the status of a fundamental right. In practice, this means starting from a human rights perspective based on justice, respect for human and non-human life, as well as intergenerational solidarity.

“Protecting nature is taking care of Brazilian children, a constitutional duty, a legal rule, imposed on all of us – families, society, companies and the State – and, thus, the principle of intergenerational equity must be placed at the center of the debate when we think about our common future,” stated Angela Barbarulo.

– Read also: Alana brings the reality of childhoods in the face of climate emergency to COP27

Climate change: what adaptation and mitigation mean and why this topic is important for children

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The world is already experiencing a number of effects from climate change that affect billions of people. Extreme weather events such as floods, heat waves, and prolonged droughts especially threaten the most vulnerable populations. Furthermore, the most fragile party in this scenario is children, who see the climate crisis jeopardizing a whole range of rights, among which are the most basic rights to life and development. Boys and girls are classified among the most vulnerable groups by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading group of scientists studying the climate crisis.

It is in this context that it becomes clear that the steps taken globally to contain the effects of climate change are no longer sufficient. To ensure a habitable planet for children today and in the future, mitigating agreements, i.e. to reduce or prevent greenhouse gas emissions, are not enough.

This is because, although mitigation is an important and necessary action, the world will continue to warm even if we manage to stabilize emissions. The effects of the warming that has already occurred are real and are being felt by everyone around the globe.

This is why we need to go beyond mitigation and, in addition, embrace adaptation actions (solutions aimed at reducing damage, risks and finding opportunities) more vigorously. Anticipating the effects of the climate emergency that are already occurring and that will come in the future, as well as managing their consequences, are actions that can save lives.

We need to learn to live, for example, with longer periods of drought and heavier rains in some regions, which often cause disasters such as landslides and floods. We need to adapt to this warming world and protect the most vulnerable, such as children.

“There is an opportunity to engage in adaptation actions that transform urban infrastructure such as schools, for example, by using nature-based solutions that can contribute to prepare our cities in the face of the climate crisis, while providing environments where children can play, grow and develop better,” stated Bebel Barros, researcher for the Child and Nature program.

– Read also: ‘We don’t want to have children anymore’: the mercury must be stopped

The impacts of low public funding for adaptation

Currently, only 20% of global public climate funding is earmarked for adaptation. If this investment is not significantly increased, millions of children will suffer irreversible impacts that have already been triggered.

Brazil, for example, faces a high risk of river floods: under a high emissions scenario, it is projected that by 2030 more than 78,000 people could be at risk of annual flooding due to climate change.

These floods often cause drowning deaths and infectious disease outbreaks, as well as impacting food production and water supply. As for indirect effects, they can also lead to post-traumatic stress and population displacement.

However, we do not see effective actions being taken. The Legal Amazon, for example, one of the regions that most draws worldwide attention when it comes to environmental preservation, covers nine Brazilian states (Amazonas, Acre, Rondônia, Roraima, Pará, Maranhão, Amapá, Tocantins and Mato Grosso) and none of them has warning systems or permanent contingency plans for extreme events such as floods, droughts, forest fires and heat waves.

– Read also: Amazon is the most unsafe place to be a child in the country

A fund to adapt cities and homes to climate disasters

In view of these facts, it is essential to establish specific policies and funds to adapt cities, homes, schools and the entire infrastructure to possible climate disasters, as well as to allocate resources to recover the losses and damages from these events, especially in the most vulnerable countries. The matter will be taken to COP 27, to be held in 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The Alana Institute participates in the event with the objective of proposing agendas on climate justice and childhood at the center of the political negotiations.

– Read also: #KidsFirst Campaign at COP 27

“At this COP, advances in the global goal of adaptation will be debated and, for a possible fund for losses and damages, it will be necessary to guarantee specific measures for children and adolescents, particularly in the territories where they live, study and circulate, so that they are seen and are the first to be protected against climate disasters. States must place the rights and the voices of children at the center of their climate action to motivate urgent mitigation, adaptation and financing actions”, argued JP Amaral, coordinator of the Children and Nature program of the Alana Institute.

The so-called Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) was defined within the Paris Agreement with the aim of increasing global adaptive capacity, resilience and reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change. An adaptation committee has been responsible for reviewing the GGA and assisting member countries with actions towards climate adaptation.

In 2021, COP 26 established a comprehensive two-year work program between Glasgow and Sharm el-Sheikh on the global adaptation goal. This year, entities should demand new priorities from the program, such as focusing on social services that serve children and communities most at risk, as well as strengthening data and monitoring mechanisms to track or measure the resilience of essential services.

– Read also: “Nature is crying out, asking for help. We need to listen.”

Droughts, floods, heat waves and extreme weather events directly affect a broad spectrum of children’s rights, such as their right to health and education. But this need not be the future for children around the world. To change course, countries must put children’s rights and voices at the heart of their climate action, driving urgent action on mitigation, adaptation and financing.

Rapid emission reductions must still be prioritized, while capacity for adaptation is radically strengthened and measures are put in place to protect children and their rights, including in cases of loss and damage. Moving in this direction is positive for children and for the planet.

– Read also: New research shows children’s perception of the environment and climate change

Alana takes the reality of children facing climate emergency to COP 27

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Children are one of the groups most affected by climate emergency and need to have a voice and a leading role in environmental policies and, by building a better world for them, we will build a better world for everyone.  Under this perspective, Alana Institute lands in Egypt this November to participate in the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27), an annual conference promoted by the United Nations (UN) to mitigate the impacts of climate change through mechanisms that can be applied globally. 

COP 27, which is usually attended by heads of state, businesses, decision makers and activists, has been held annually since 1995.  In 2020, the event was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  The COPs have resulted in some of the most important environmental agreements in history, such as the Paris Agreement, which, among other things, aims to keep global temperature increase below 2°C. 

“Alana Institute’s mission is to promote and protect children’s rights as an absolute priority.  Our main goal at the COP is to advocate for placing children’s rights at the center of the debate on climate discussions in order to defend their right to life and to a balanced and healthy environment,” explained Laís Fleury, International Relations Officer of the Alana Institute.  

Children at the center of the COP negotiations

COP 27 started on November 6, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and is expected to bring intense debates on climate finance, climate adaptation and compensation for losses and damages (measures to repair those impacted by the consequences of climate extremes, such as floods). It is also, once again, seeking ways to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C. In these discussions, the Alana Institute hopes to bring children to the center of the negotiations, with special attention to children in Brazil and the global south.

– Read also: ‘We need to ensure that children have a future in the present’

This is the second time that the organization participates in the UN conference.  In 2021, the Alana Institute was at COP 26, in Glasgow, Scotland, participating in urban interventions, panels and round table discussions.  The Child and Nature program took the Grey Bubble of the Free to Play Outside campaign to the city, which gives visibility to the problem of air pollution and invites families to engage in actions towards clean air for children around the world.  It also participated in the roundtable discussion “Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future”, about the injustices that comprise the issue of climate change.  

Lunetas, a journalism website dedicated to the world of childhoods, presented the impacts of the climate emergency on Brazilian childhoods in the panel “The voices of multiple childhoods on climate emergency: for a future in the present”, and the Alana Foundation was part of the panel “Stop burning the Pantanal and the Amazon”, which addressed the importance of keeping the forest standing, preserving biodiversity and drastically reducing burning and CO2 emissions.

This is because it is children who form one of the most vulnerable groups to the climate crisis.  They are the ones who suffer its effects the most, as their development is affected and their rights are violated by consequences ranging from natural disasters to food and water shortages.  

To put it in perspective, more than one in every four deaths of children under five years of age is directly or indirectly related to environmental risks.  Furthermore, approximately one billion children and adolescents live in one of the 33 countries classified as posing extremely high risk, including Brazil.  Hence, the importance of reinforced and specific measures.  

Plan to ensure climate justice for children

Integrating children’s rights into climate negotiations is critical.  To this end, it is important that COP 27 participants develop an appropriate plan of action to ensure climate justice for children.  The Children Action Plan, inspired by the Gender Action Plan, is one of the initiatives that aims to promote knowledge and understanding of climate actions that are sensitive to children and their coherent integration into the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Another important point for the round of negotiations is to increase and accelerate investment in child and youth responsive adaptation in disaster risk reduction and mitigation measures.  There is an urgent need to reach children at greatest risk and advocate for child-sensitive criteria in the integration of multilateral funds. 

During COP 27, Alana Institute will seek to ensure that child protection is reflected in the results achieved by the planned workshops of the Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh work programme, a two-year work program between Glasgow and Sharm el-Sheikh on the global goal that was signed at COP 26, as well as to establish guidelines for countries’ national plans with child-centered adaptation actions.

In addition, the Alana Institute, together with several international organizations, is at the forefront of a movement called the “Children First Climate Movement”, aimed to include children’s rights in the results of climate negotiations.

Empowering society with environmental education

The Paris Agreement, established at COP 21 in 2015, provided guidelines to empower society for climate action through education, training and other measures.  At the 2021 conference, countries advanced the intention to promote this empowerment through the Glasgow Work Programme on Action for Climate Empowerment, which sets out measures for policy coherence, coordinated action, monitoring and evaluation. 

The first sessions of the Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) held in July this year in Bonn, Germany, were directed towards youth, with specific and one-off recommendations for children, such as, for example, education and communication training on climate.  Now, at COP 27, the subject must be raised again with the objective of incorporating recommendations on child protection and promoting workshops that discuss intergenerational equity and education in contact with nature.

– Read also: 13 environmental projects created by children and young people

Children as a priority in climate finance mechanisms, loss and damages

No financial mechanism established at the COP to date has had resources directed to the protection of children, although in some of them there is mention of children’s needs and priorities for certain policies.  This is why the Alana Institute suggests that COP 27 create a definition of “child-sensitive climate finance” in the Standing Committee on Finance, a permanent finance committee created with the objective of helping the COP to improve financial coordination of climate change actions.

The organization also advocates including the best interests of children in the New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance, earmarking resources and child protection in favor of developing countries.  One of the goals is to enable an yearly fund of at least US$100 billion by 2025, taking into account the needs of developing countries.  In addition, another point is that any progress on a loss and damage agreement must have a child-sensitive perspective, since children are the ones most impacted by these changes.

Respect for gender equity, especially that of girls

In the programs defined in previous conferences (such as UNICEF’s Gender Action Plan), girls are mentioned only in items related to participation and superficial leadership in some events.  We need to move forward to ensure that girls and young women from vulnerable communities are active in decision-making.  Another important point is to demand that countries report on their effective measures for gender equity and develop a report in this regard.

– Read also: Gender equality can help fight the climate crisis

Children as priority in ocean discussions  

At COP 26, participating countries signed a pact to strengthen actions related to ocean protection and prepare an informal synthesis report for countries to present at COP 27.  The dialogue included youth, but issues related to the guarantee of human rights did not have a solid presence in discussions.  Countries must now be asked to prioritize actions for the oceans that also protect the rights of children.  

In this sense, it is important to establish ocean-related adaptation guidelines to strengthen the resilience of coastal and fishing communities and, consequently, their children; to mitigate loss and damage, especially with regard to ocean acidification as a long-term impact on children; and to call for a specific report on childhood and climate in the context of oceans.

– Read also: Children narrate the impact of mining in the Chapada Diamantina

Children’s participation at COP 27 and its mechanisms

Children’s voices must be heard through their meaningful participation in the work of UNFCCC members.  This is how the outcomes will reflect their concerns, perspectives and ideas.  In addition, member countries should seek the collaboration and input of human and children’s rights bodies and experts.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has taken a significant step to hold governments accountable to ensure that children live in a clean, green, healthy and sustainable world by providing guidance on how children’s rights are impacted by the environmental crisis and what governments should do to uphold these rights.

This effort should be used as a tool to align the policies built by the UNFCCC, bringing the importance of General Comment 26 into the climate negotiations, which was prepared with the participation of the Alana Institute and addresses children’s rights and the environment, with special focus on climate change.

“In 30 years of the UNFCCC, we have never had a specific agreement on children’s right to climate justice.  General Comment 26 can bring a solid base of recommendations for a commitment from nations to combat the climate crisis, putting children first”, stated JP Amaral, coordinator of the Child and Nature program of Alana Institute.

Faced with so many goals and the urgency of moving forward in combating the climate crisis, putting children and their rights at the center of all processes and negotiations will allow for a more cooperative process in all areas, such as mitigation, adaptation, financing, as well as loss and damage.  A healthy climate for children is a healthy climate for all.

– Read also: What can we learn from the childhood of indigenous children? 

Why is climate emergency a children’s rights crisis?

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Climate emergency is a children’s rights crisis. They are the ones who suffer the most from its effects by having their development affected and rights violated by consequences ranging from natural disasters influenced by climate change to food and water scarcity.  Representing one third of the global population, children will suffer the longest from the consequences of the climate crisis in the future.  And they already see threats to their hard-won progress in securing their basic rights.  That is why they need to be at the center of public policies to fight the crisis.

– Read also: Climate Emergency and Childhoods: for a Future in the Present

Almost every child on the planet is exposed to at least one climate and environmental risk according to a report published in 2021 by UNICEF, a fund created by the UN to promote the rights and well-being of children and adolescents around the world.  Overall, according to the document, one billion of the world’s children, which is about half of the world’s child population, live in extremely high-risk countries, meaning that they are highly exposed to climate and environmental hazards and stressors.

Children have the right to decent housing, but natural disasters like flooding are increasingly destroying their homes.  Children have the right to water and food, but extreme weather events, desertification and drought result in water and food shortages.

“As children are undergoing a peculiar period of development and formation, they are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.  Extreme climate events directly harm a wide range of children’s rights, including their right to survival and development”, stated Lais Fleury, International Relations Officer of the Alana Institute.  

– Read also: The water crisis is a children’s rights crisis

To shed some perspective on the size of the problem, by 2030, climate change is expected to generate 95,000 more deaths of children under five years of age each year due to malnutrition, according to UN estimates.  

Meanwhile, rising temperatures are increasing the incidence of waterborne and vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, fever and diarrhea. 80% percent of the people who died from malaria in 2014 were children, according to UNICEF.  

This crisis impacts children’s most basic rights to survive and thrive, consequently, reducing environmental risks could prevent the death of one in every four children worldwide, according to the UN.  The calculation takes into account a scenario in which these risks represent 25% of the total disease exposure for children up to five years of age.  It is, therefore, a serious global health problem.

In practice, we have also seen the effects of climate emergency threaten education.  If, on the one hand, extreme weather events are destroying schools, on the other hand, poor access to health and food affects child development and learning capacity.  In addition, there is the loss of family income due to climate stressors, which pushes children to help with household chores and to seek work, increasing the combo of violation of their rights.

– Read also: How climate emergency affects the education of children and young people

Children’s vulnerability in the climate crisis 

Girls, impoverished children, indigenous children, children with disabilities and other minorities are the first and most affected by climate change.  The emergency has further driven families to migrate, raising the pool of children on the move to cross borders, often far from school and subjected to child labor.

Although they are the group that contributes least to climate emergency, children are the most vulnerable to the effects of this crisis, whether directly or indirectly.  As they are less able to regulate their body temperatures on their own, children under five years of age will be more susceptible to heat waves expected to be so extreme – and to which 75% of the world’s population will be exposed by 2100, according to studies – that may even cause deaths.

Despite the evidence of the serious consequences of climate change for children, they are still barely paid attention to by the international and national structures working on the issue. 

In this context, promoting environmental education is imperative.  Children need to be supported to protect themselves from climate-related threats and exercise their right to be heard about policies and actions that seek to remedy harm.  They need to be addressed in all key climate governance structures. 

“To guarantee a quality education is to ensure that children, adolescents and adults have meaningful experiences with and in nature.  These experiences can occur through the school and its areas, providing conditions for students to love and care for life in all its forms.  From a contextualized, scientific and critical perspective, education, then, must address the issues that directly influence the present and the future of our existence, strengthening an environmental and climate citizenship to be instilled in a transversal and interdisciplinary manner throughout the whole school curriculum”, stated Raquel Franzim, Education and Children’s Culture Officer of the Alana Institute.    

Recommendations for the right to a balanced environment 

Aiming to ensure that the right of all children and adolescents to an ecologically balanced environment is guaranteed with absolute priority, the Alana Institute, through the program Children and Nature, contributed to the preparation of General Comment 26, a document that creates recommendations and guidelines for countries, companies and society to ensure the rights of children and the environment, with a focus on climate change.

These recommendations are published by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is made up of 18 independent experts who monitor countries’ implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  It is the most widely accepted human rights treaty in history, ratified by 196 countries.  

General Comment 26 has a number of warnings.  One of them is about the environmental racism that places children and adolescents from the global south among those most affected by the climate crisis.  The term refers to the urgency of addressing the causes, consequences and solutions to climate emergency from an anti-racist perspective.

– Read also: Legal policy brief: groundbreaking document broadens debate on children’s right to nature

The document also highlights the need to address the impacts of air pollution over this group, to ensure access to nature, food security and safe drinking water for all children. It also points to the need for special care regarding the rights of indigenous children and those from traditional communities, which is the group most affected by deforestation, fires, mercury contamination and climate change, losing their cultural heritage and their right to life.

In Brazil, deforestation and wildfires are among the main factors of greenhouse gas emissions and directly affect the health of children.  Peak burnings in the Amazon in 2019 have led to the hospitalization of over 5,000 children per month in the capitals of the region due to respiratory problems.  

Protecting the territories of indigenous peoples, in addition to preserving their history and identity, is also essential from an environmental and climatic perspective.  Aggressive action on the climate crisis is urgent or there will simply be no habitable world for children – now and in the future.

What is Climate Justice and how does it relate to children’s rights?

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Climate Justice is the name of the global movement that seeks a fairer division of investment and responsibility in combating climate emergency.  It means understanding that the whole world already feels the effects caused by the climate crisis, such as the warming that increasingly generates floods, severe droughts and heat waves.  However, these consequences affect people and countries very differently and unequally, depending on their resources and degree of vulnerability.

Less industrialized countries and more vulnerable people, for instance, contribute less to aggravating the crisis, but are often the most susceptible to suffer its consequences, since they have less infrastructure and resources to face the problem.  This is why Climate Justice proposes that those who have most exploited the planet’s natural resources invest more and support, through projects, those who need it most, as they have more infrastructure and development.

It is a movement to try to ensure global justice for the often forgotten people who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change: impoverished people, women, children, black people, indigenous people, immigrants, people with disabilities and other marginalized minorities around the world.  Thus, Climate Justice is about securing and protecting human rights and trusting that working in community is the most effective way to secure the present and future for generations to come.  

“Climate Justice means to recognize that the climate crisis affects different groups and different communities differently.  The more vulnerable a community is, the more affected it is.  This global movement seeks, therefore, to bring solutions in an equitable way to groups that suffer the most from the crisis resulting from climate change”, stated Pedro Hartung, Policies and Children’s Rights Officer of the Alana Institute.

Therefore, it is important that climate change decisions are participatory, transparent and responsible, and that they are always in pursuit of gender equality and equity, as well as sharing the benefits and burdens equitably, as advocated by the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, a leadership center fighting to ensure this global justice. 

– Read also: Climate Justice: hope, resilience and the struggle for a sustainable future

A healthy environment is now a human right 

The United Nations (UN) itself declared earlier this year, in July, that a healthy environment is a human right, marking an important step in action against the accelerating decline of the natural world.  The resolution has encouraged environmental advocates who believe it is important to push more and more countries to bring the spirit of this message into their constitutional laws and regional treaties.

“The resolution sends the message that no one can take nature or clean air and water from us, nor deprive us of a stable climate.  At least not without a fight,” Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), argued at the time. 

– Read also: Burning Biomes: the impact of forest fires on children’s health

The constitutional right to climate in Brazil

Since 1988, Brazil has recognized the climate as a constitutional right.  “Everyone has the right to an ecologically balanced environment, a common use asset for the people and essential to a healthy quality of life, and it is the duty of the government and the community to defend and preserve it for present and future generations,” states article 225 of the Brazilian Constitution.

The legislation foresees actions such as defining territories, protecting the national fauna and flora, and promoting environmental education.  The Brazilian Amazon Forest, the Atlantic Rainforest, the Serra do Mar, the Pantanal Mato-Grossense and the Coastal Zone are considered national heritage, so their use should happen under conditions that ensure the preservation of the environment and of the natural resources.

– Read also: Children live through memories and fear of fires in the Pantanal

However, this is not what has been happening in practice.  In recent decades, especially in the last few years, the country has seen deforestation and fires advance over the Amazon forest and other biomes.  The deforestation rate in the Amazon rose 73% in three years (from 2019 to 2021), according to the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), linked to the Federal Government’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovations.

Therefore, to achieve Climate Justice, we need to address the climate crisis right now, with concrete measures to preserve and protect the rights of future generations.  We also need to move forward and ensure compliance with laws that already exist in countries to limit pollution, protect nature and combat climate change.  

In this process, children and adolescents, who suffer and will suffer the most from the effects of climate change, must be made the priority, and their right to participation, both to listen to the problems and to find solutions, must be duly guaranteed.  Climate Justice requires joint action to preserve the planet.

“The climate crisis in childhood is not an abstract concept, but something experienced in the body, daily life and subjectivity of billions of babies and children in the world.  We need to create sensitive, deep and ethical listening paths to access what they have to tell us from their deepest feelings and statements, not only to ensure their right to participate in the issues that concern them, but, above all, because children teach us as a society to perceive the world from a different perspective”, argues Ana Claudia Leite, education and childhood advisor to the Alana Institute.

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