Photo: Girls link climate change and human rights at United Nations

15-year-old Zoe Craig (left) and 13-year-old Rekha Dhillon-Richardson (right) met with United Nations officials this past week to urge more action on climate change.

By Panos Grames, Communications Specialist

I don't know about you, but when I was a teen, I wasn't meeting with officials at the United Nations. But then, Rekha Dhillon-Richardson, 13, and Zoe Craig, 15, aren't your average teenagers. The girls met in late July during a joint internship with Justice for Girls and the David Suzuki Foundation. Less than two months later, they have made their way to the UN in Geneva, meeting with committee members for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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Committee members from Norway and Chile then directly quoted from their concerns to question Canada, illustrating how the lack of action on climate change is a violation of children's rights.

Back in July when the girls were in the David Suzuki Foundation office, I spoke to them to see how their research was going. They were looking through a list of rights protected under the convention, and Zoe said to me, "We were looking at how climate change will impact all of these rights—housing, food, shelter, education and the right to equality—but really it's all about the first and most fundamental right: the right to life." It stopped me in my tracks.

The girls managed to cut through all the complexity of the issue and get straight to the core. Some might argue it's a simplistic view—and it is—but thinking of it in this way helps to clarify that curbing climate change requires more action and less talk. Some people call this "youthful idealism," but after working with them I started calling it "youthful realism."

The girls didn't do this on their own; clearly their parents, their teachers and their community have all had an influence. I was especially inspired by the relationship that developed between the girls and two of the Suzuki Elders, witnessing firsthand the powerful dynamics of intergenerational learning.

Every once in a while you meet people who inspire you to think differently, work a little harder and be more hopeful. As Suzuki Elder Diana Ellis said, "Smart, quick... and fun. The world needs their skills and energy."

Yes we do. They're putting it to good use, and we had better do right by them.

Canada was under review by the Committee on the Rights of the Child at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on September 26 and 27.

See news release

September 28, 2012

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