On November 10, 2021, 14 youth climate activists from around the world (the same petitioners from Sacchi v. Argentina) submitted a petition to United Nations (U.N.) Secretary-General António Guterres asking him to declare a climate emergency. The petitioners rely on the impacts of climate change on human rights, specifically the rights of children as recognized by the U.N. and its several agencies, including the recent decision of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The petitioners call on the Secretary-General and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) to declare a systemwide, Level 3 climate emergency at the U.N. The petitioners further encourage the IASC and the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) to mobilize a U.N. Comprehensive Response to the Climate Emergency and activate a crisis management team to oversee immediate and comprehensive global action on climate.
Declaring a Level 3 Emergency, the U.N.’s highest designation, would mean placing climate action at the top of the agenda for each U.N. agency. This would ensure that U.N. resources and personnel can be deployed rapidly to dispatch aid and scientific expertise to countries most vulnerable to climate disasters. It would also ensure that the U.N. can help countries meet their emission reduction pledges on an urgent, emergency basis. The petitioners assert that a U.N. Comprehensive Response to the Climate Emergency is necessary (i) as international human rights law requires states to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions that have transboundary effects, (ii) to address the fundamental inequities of climate change, and (iii) to provide a legal response to the youth and fulfill the U.N. Charter’s promise to protect succeeding generations.
According to the petitioners, the U.N.’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic provides the blueprint for climate action. In the face of the pandemic, the Secretary-General and the IASC mobilized a U.N. Comprehensive Response to the global health crisis and activated a U.N. Crisis Management Team. The petitioners argue that the climate emergency warrants a similar response as a threat as serious and urgent as the global pandemic.