The complaint accuses Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey of knowing about the impact of their carbon emissions on the climate and doing nothing to mitigate it.
Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and 15 other young climate activists on Monday filed a complaint with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child alleging that world leaders' inaction on the climate crisis has violated children's rights.
The petitioners, who range in age from 8 to 17 and hail from 12 different countries, teared up as they presented their complaint at the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) headquarters and gave personal accounts of how their lives and homes have been upended by climate change because of politicians' inaction.
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It runs alongside the United Nations General Assembly, which this year features a one-day climate summit. This is timely given rising public fears – and citizen action – over weather conditions, pollution, ocean health and dwindling wildlife. It also reflects the understanding of the growing business case for action.
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"World leaders have failed to keep what they promised. They promised to protect our rights and they have not done that," said Thunberg, who spoke after giving an impassioned address to the U.N. General Assembly earlier on Monday.
The complaint is the latest action by young people to highlight the growing threat of climate change and the risks of ignoring it. On Friday, some 4 million people participated in a global climate strike, inspired by Thunberg, the 16-year-old who started a weekly school strike in August 2018 to raise awareness about the issue.
The complaint accuses the respondent countries - Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey - of knowing about the impact of their carbon emissions on the climate and doing nothing to mitigate it.
The respondents are a few of the biggest carbon emitters out of the 45 countries that have signed a protocol allowing children to seek redress under the 1989 Convention of the Rights of the Child, a treaty that declared the unassailable civil, economic, social, political and cultural rights of children. Other major carbon emitters like the United States and China have not signed the protocol.
"We will not permit them to take our future away. They had the right to have their future; why don't we have the right to have our own?" said Catarina Lorenzo, 12, of Salvador, Brazil.
Global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels has already led to droughts and heat waves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and floods, and scientists say the crisis has intensified since world leaders signed the 2015 Paris Agreement to combat climate change.
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Three of the child petitioners from the Marshall Islands urged world leaders to visit their country to see firsthand how the rising seas are swallowing the central Pacific islands.
"I would show you my backyard," said Litokne Kabua, 16, who said the ocean has crept up on his family's property in recent years.
"I would show you my old house that was destroyed by a storm in the summer of 2015," said Ranton Anjain, 17, adding that the seawalls Marshallese people have built have proven useless.
Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine on Monday said she would seek parliamentary approval to declare a climate crisis on the low-lying atoll.
Heine said her country and New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and others, which form the "High Ambition" bloc at U.N. climate negotiations, will commit to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
More than 60 world leaders and chief executives of energy and financial companies are expected to address the General Assembly this week and announce climate finance measures and transitioning from coal power.