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Advancing children and young people’ rights to a healthy ocean in the context of climate change

Senia Febrica

One Ocean Hub, University of Strathclyde, UK

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The One Ocean Hub sought to advance understanding about children and young people’s rights to a healthy ocean through its activities pre and during the UN Climate Change Conference 2021 (COP26).

These included organising an event for the UN Climate Change Conference of Youth (COY) 16  and  a side event for the COP26 Virtual Ocean Pavilion. In addition, the Hub provided input into the draft “Global Youth Statement on Water and Oceans”, prepared by Sustainable Ocean Alliance – a global community of youth, entrepreneurs, and experts, all collaborating to solve the greatest challenges facing our ocean.



Prior to the start of the COP26 in Glasgow, the One Ocean Hub and the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance (SCELG) organised a joint event ‘Message in a Bottle: Island Youth, COP26 and Children’s Rights to a Healthy Ocean’ on 29th October 2021 as part of the Conference of the Youth (COY16). COY26 was attended by over 30 youth delegates from around the world, under the banner of YOUNGO – The Official Youth Constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

At this event, an excerpt of the ‘Climate Change Message in a Bottle’ film, produced collaboratively through partnership between UistFilm, SCELG, Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre, Island Innovation, Youth Scotland, and the Scottish Government was premiered, showcasing messages sent from island schoolchildren around the world to COP26 delegates. After the film screening COY16 delegates were invited to reflect on the messages sent by island schoolchildren to COP26 and to send their responses to the children’s messages.

Following Climate Change Message in a Bottle discussion, our panellists reflected on the relevance of children’s and young people’s human rights for the protection of the ocean and for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Ms Lindy Brown (University of Plymouth) underscored growing anxiety and feelings of powerless among children and young people about climate change. She highlighted that adults must step up to support, enable and protect children and young people to develop resilience, survive and thrive. Ms Brown stressed that protecting and promoting children’s rights to a healthy ocean as part of a healthy environment is absolutely adults’ responsibility.

The event closed with a reflection on the importance of knowledge on deep-sea ecosystems in ocean and climate literacy and education programmes led by Ms Kelsey Archer Barnhill (University of Edinburgh). She highlighted the importance to connect youth with the deep-sea ecosystems. These special parts of the ocean comprise a wide diversity of organisms and are fundamental to support biodiscovery, carbon. and climate cycle. Despite the valuable function of the deep-sea ecosystems, Ms Barnhill highlighted, the lack of knowledge about our ocean hinders our ability to conserve and manage our ocean in a sustainable way.


During COP26, the One Ocean Hub led a roundtable on ‘Children and young people’ human rights to a healthy ocean: their importance for climate change adaptation & mitigation’ for the Virtual Ocean Pavilion on 12th of November 2021. The roundtable was chaired by Dr Bernadette Snow (Deputy Director of the One Ocean Hub) and brought together youth representatives and researchers from different disciplines on children’ and youth’ views on the value of the ocean and climate change. Building upon the Hub’s contribution for COY16, the event provided an opportunity to feed into the Hub’s efforts, together with the UN Environment Programme to contribute to the development of a new UN General Comment on children’s human right to a healthy environment, with a focus on climate change, and into the implementation of the UN Joint Commitment to the Rights of the Child to a Healthy Environment. The event also included a reflection on different knowledge systems, including indigenous and local knowledge, and questions related to the integration of these different knowledge systems in ocean and climate literacy and education programmes.

A presentation by Mr Mark Haver (Chair of Youth Policy Advisory Council Sustainable Ocean Alliance) highlighted the role of the ocean as climate regulator and that seabed may be our greatest carbon sink of all. Mr Haver emphasised the need for the inclusion of youth in natural resource management decision-making processes due to youth’s stakes from an inter-generational perspective, and the unique perspectives and solutions they can offer. He noted that deep-seabed mining is an unjustified threat to unique deep-sea biodiversity and called on countries to take a firm stance before the International Seabed Authority to stop issuing exploratory licenses and to adopt a global moratorium on deep-seabed mining before there are severe environmental impacts that we cannot fully understand, let alone predict or mitigate.

Dr Soo-Young Hwang (Legal Officer, United Nations Environment Programme) presentation illustrated recent global advances on children’s and young people’s human rights to a healthy environment. Dr Hwang pointed to the UN Human Rights Council resolution 48/13 that was passed in October 2021 and recognised for the first time the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. She also referred to the Declaration on Children, Youth and Climate Action that was signed by a group of world leaders at the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) in Madrid. Dr Hwang confirmed her commitment to integrate the human  rights of children and young people in her work and in the work of the UN, and to create more space for child and youth participation.

Ms Lova Eveborn (WWF Sweden Youth) brought to our attention the importance to bring together different knowledge systems to protect and maintain a healthy ocean. She underlined the crucial role of indigenous peoples’ ocean stewardship. As the mindset of young people is changing, Ms Eveborn, hopes that youth will take up stewardship roles in protecting our ocean though instilling deep connections. She support to call for legal recourse against ecocide –

The criminalisation of large-scale environmental destruction caused by activities such as extensive over-fishing or deep-sea mining.

Ms Lindy Brown (University of Plymouth) noted how children and young people can bring clarity and authenticity to decision-making, without having been compromised by association and vested interests. Most importantly, they can speak to their lived experience of the impacts of climate change (e.g., rising sea levels and flooding). Ms Brown then pointed to adults’ responsibility to ensure that the views of children and young people are front and center in decision making for climate change adaptation and mitigation. This responsibility entails challenging the prevailing culture and prejudices about youth.

Ms Kelsey Archer Barnhill (One Ocean Hub, UK All-Atlantic Ocean Youth Ambassador, University of Edinburgh) highlighted the need to advance our knowledge on deep-sea ecosystem to improve our understanding of conservation and management actions that serve the best interest for environment, children, and young people. Ms Barnhill also stressed the lack of opportunities for young people to have access to the ocean and the role of science communication introduce young people to the deep-sea and inspire the next generation of ocean stewards.

Professor Elisa Morgera (Director, One Ocean Hub) connected key points from the previous presentations, by emphasing  that:

  • Different stakeholders and researchers from various disciplines (from deep-sea ecology, to social sciences, arts and law) should work together to support children’s human right to a healthy ocean;
  • Children’s and young people’s aspirations to take part in decision making on ocean and climate governance are supported by international human rights law: there are  international obligations binding upon states to include children and young people in these decision-making processes;
  • Children’s right to participate in decisions on the ocean and on climate change entail also:
  • the right to have access to information in a timely and accessible manner;
  • the right to children-specific modalities to participate in decision-making processes;
  • the need for decision makers and businesses to take into account children’s views and assess potential social, cultural, and environmental impacts of their activities on children’s human rights;
  • the need to be supported in the exercise of their participation rights (through finance, capacity building, etc); and
  • taking as a primary consideration children’s best interests when making a decision that may affect their human rights.


Lessons shared and commitments made prior and during COP26 showed a convergence of views among youth representatives, researchers, and United Nations representatives on the need to mainstream the importance of a healthy ocean for children’s and young people’s right to a healthy environment in climate change and biodiversity processes. As a way forward, the One Ocean Hub will continue to work closely with UNEP and other members of the international Children’s Environmental Rights’ Initiative to ensure that due attention is given to the human rights of children and youth in ocean-related processes also with a view to protecting future generations.