Children’s Rights and a Sustainable Future

January 11, 2024

Over the past two centuries, we’ve come to understand children as having unique rights that society must protect. Kids aren’t just little adults—they have distinct developmental needs that we are obligated to meet on their path to adulthood.

Our kids will also inherit a future world whose environment is being shaped by the decisions of today’s adults. Their role as inheritors of our climate legacy has become the foundation for the legal, civil, and political actions children have used to curb governmental policies which support the production of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are contributing to global climate change.

As a result of this evolving understanding of kids’ rights, two dimensions of this single issue have emerged: supporting them as they grow into healthy, capable adults and providing them an environment that won’t endanger them with calamitous weather events and the other disastrous effects of climate change.

It is time that we consolidate these two dimensions into a single, comprehensive set of policies that can be enacted now to ensure all our kids have a better future.”

One of the immediate, and intuitive, first steps in such a policy shift would be the creation of playspaces that can address environmental challenges and bring kids into closer contact with nature while also closing the play equity gap which has developed over the last century. If designed and built in the right way, neighborhood and schoolyard playspaces can create more access to physical activity in historically disinvested neighborhoods—which has numerous physical and mental health benefits—while also contributing to a more resilient and environmentally sensitive community.

Using recycled materials instead of plastics, planting trees, installing community gardening spaces, placing solar panels on shelter roofs, and a variety of other practices can help transform a playspace from heat source to a heat oasis, and when done in the aggregate, can be an important component in creating the green cities future residents, both old and young, will need.

Digging In The School Garden

It is time that we recognize we owe our children these types of spaces, not just for meeting their needs today but also for safeguarding their world tomorrow.

Though it may be too late to stop all of the negative impacts of anthropogenic climate change, kids have a right to demand that we not make it worse. And what is the point of guaranteeing every child a right to play if the benefits from play are negated by an environment which precludes the possibility of living a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life as an adult?

Securing kids’ rights now and for the future shouldn’t be something they have to go to court for. We, as a society, know how to make life better for every child, we simply must have the desire to follow through on our commitment to their future.