Children, Climate Change, and the Intergenerational Right to a Viable Future

Reference work entry
Part of the Geographies of Children and Young People book series (GCYP, volume 8)


Climate change is arguably the most serious challenge faced by the world in recent times. Its effects are projected to be long term and will impact future generations. Children with their whole lives still ahead of them, and unborn generations, are expected to bear the brunt of the impacts of these long-term climatic changes. Amidst existing literature, there is a noticeable lack of attention given to children, their views on climate change, and their (and the unborn generations’) intergenerational rights to a viable environmental future. Children’s voices deserve to be heard. They represent the link between the current adult and unborn generations and are our closest connection to future generations. This chapter explores the doctrine of intergenerational equity and justice while simultaneously reflecting on what children have to say about current environmental and climate concerns. It counters the main critiques raised against intergenerational equity: that future generations are not capable of having rights and that there is no certainty surrounding what future generations want. This chapter argues that a consideration of children’s rights, preferences, and voices, in part, answers the arguments raised against intergenerational equity. More importantly, it calls for increased duty of care actions by present generation adults, including a wider legal acceptance in both international and domestic law of environmental protections for children and future generations’ right to a viable future.


Climate change Intergenerational equity Intergenerational justice Children and the environment 


  1. Allen, T. (1994). The Philippine children’s case: Recognizing legal standing for future generations. The Georgetown International Environmental Law Review, 6, 713–741.Google Scholar
  2. Barry, B. (1977). Justice between generations. In P. Hacker & J. Raz (Eds.), Law, morality and society: Essays in honour of HLA hart. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  3. Barry, B. (1997). Sustainability and intergenerational justice. Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory, 89, 43–64.Google Scholar
  4. Beckerman, W., & Pasek, J. (2001). Justice, posterity and the environment. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown Weiss, E. (1994). In fairness to our children: International law and intergenerational equity. Childhood, 12, 22–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown Weiss, E. (2008). Climate change, intergenerational equity and international law. Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, 9, 615–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bunyavanich, S., Landrigan, C., McMichael, A., & Epstein, P. (2003). The impact of climate change on child health. Ambulatory Pediatrics, 3, 44–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carbon Trust. (2012). A global survey of young adults’ perceptions of carbon and climate change. Retrieved March 1, 2016, from Google Scholar
  9. Collins, L. (2006). The doctrine of intergenerational equity in global environmental governance. Master of Laws, The University of British Columbia, CanadaGoogle Scholar
  10. Cutter, S. (2010). Social science perspectives on hazards and vulnerability science. In T. Beer (Ed.), Geophysical hazards: Minimizing risk, maximizing awareness. USA: Springer.Google Scholar
  11. Davies, K. (2012). Intergenerational democracy, rethinking sustainable development. Illinois: Common Ground USA.Google Scholar
  12. Franchini, M., & Mannucci, P. M. (2015). Impact on human health of climate changes. European Journal of Internal Medicine, 26(1), 1–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gaba, J. (1999). Environmental ethics and our moral relationship to future generations: Future rights and present virtue. Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, 24, 249–288.Google Scholar
  14. Gardiner, S. (2004). Ethics and global climate change. Ethics, 114(3), 555–600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Göpel, M. (2011). Guarding our future: How to protect future generations, solutions (Vol. 1, No 6). Retrieved March 7, 2016, from
  16. Göpel, M., & Arhelger, M. (2010). How to protect future generations’ rights. Intergenerational Justice Review, 10(1), 3.Google Scholar
  17. Gordon, B., Mackay, R., & Rehfuess, E. (2004). Inheriting the world: The atlas of childrens health and the environment. Geneva: World Health Organization.Google Scholar
  18. Guillemot, J., & Burgess J. (2014). Child rights at risk. The challenges of climate change, children on the front line. Florence: UNICEF Office of Research. Retrieved March 7, 2016, from
  19. Hansen, J., & Sato, M. (2012). Paleoclimate implications for human-made climate change. In A. Berger, F. Mesinger, & D. Šijački (Eds.), Climate change: Inferences from paleoclimate and regional aspects. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  20. Hersch, J., & Viscusi, W. K. (2006). The generational divide in support for environmental policies: European evidence. Climatic Change, 77(1–2), 121–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Horton, J., Hadfield-Hill, S., Christensen, P., & Kraft L. P. (2013). Children, young people and sustainability: Introduction to special issue. Local Environment, 18(3), 249–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Howarth, R. B. (1992). Intergenerational justice and the chain of obligation. Environmental Values, 1(2), 133–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Intergovernmental Platform on Climate Change. (2007). Summary for policymakers. In Climate change 2007: Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Retrieved June 27, 2007, from.
  24. Intergovernmental Platform on Climate Change. (2012). Summary for policymakers. In C. B. Field, V. Barros, T. F. Stocker, D. Qin, D. J. Dokken, K. L. Ebi, M. D. Mastrandrea, K. J. Mach, G.-K. Plattner, S. K. Allen, M. Tignor, & P. M. Midgley (Eds.), Managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation. A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK/New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Intergovernmental Platform on Climate Change. (2013). In T. F. Stocker, D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S. K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex, & P. M. Midgley (Eds.), Climate change 2013: The physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK/New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Intergovernmental Platform on Climate Change. (2014). In C. B. Field, V. R. Barros, D. J. Dokken, K. J. Mach, M. D. Mastrandrea, T. E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K. L. Ebi, Y. O. Estrada, R. C. Genova, B. Girma, E. S. Kissel, A. N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P. R. Mastrandrea, & L. L. White (Eds.), Climate change 2014: Impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK/New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kelly, J. (2010). Climate change sceptics lose battle as onus of proof shifts. The Australian, October 22, 2010. Retrieved March 7, 2016, from
  28. Malone, K. (2001). Children, youth and sustainable cities. Local Environment, 6(1), 5–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Martin, M.-C. (2014). Foreword. In The challenges of climate change, children on the front line. United Nations Children’s Fund. Retrieved March 1, 2016, from
  30. Morton, A. (2009). First climate refugees Start Moveto New Island Home. The Age, 29 July, 2009.Google Scholar
  31. Nanji, A. (1999). The right to development: Social and cultural rights and duties to the community. In Proceedings of the seminar on Islamic perspectives on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN Doc. HR/IP/SEM.Google Scholar
  32. National Climatic Data Center. (2014). Global analysis – June 2014. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved March 7, 2016, from
  33. Ojala, M. (2007). Confronting macrosocial worries: Worry about environmental problems and proactive coping among a group of young volunteers. Futures, 39(6), 729–745.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ojala, M. (2012). Regulating worry, promoting hope: How do children, adolescents, and young adults cope with climate change? International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 7(4), 537–561.Google Scholar
  35. Perera, F. (2014). Children suffer most from climate change and burning of fossil fuels. In The challenges of climate change, children on the front line. Florence: UNICEF Office of Research.Google Scholar
  36. Petkova, E. P., Ebi, K. L., Culp, D., & Redlener, I. (2015). Climate change and health on the US gulf coast: Public health adaptation is needed to address future risks. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12(8), 9342–9356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pope Francis. (2015). Encyclical letter Laudato Si’ of the Holy Father Francis on care for our common home. Vatican. Rome. Retrieved March 7, 2016, from Google Scholar
  38. Prieur, M. (2011). Draft convention on the international status of environmentally-displaced persons’. The Urban Lawyer, 43(1), 247–257.Google Scholar
  39. Sheffield, P., & Landrigan, P. (2011). Global climate change and children’s health: Threats and strategies for prevention. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119(3), 291–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Taib, F. (1997). Malaysia and UNCED. London: Kluwer Law International.Google Scholar
  41. Tanner, T. (2010), Shifting the narrative: Child‐led responses to climate change and disasters in El Salvador and the Philippines. Children & Society, 24(4), 339–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Tanner, T., & Seballos, F. (2012). Action research with children: Lessons from tackling disasters and climate change. IDS Bulletin, 43(3), 59–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. The Dalai Lama. (1990). My Tibet. Thames and Hudson.Google Scholar
  44. Thompson, J. (2009). Just inheritance in an international polity. In Intergenerational justice: Rights and responsibilities in an intergenerational polity. Routledge. Abingdon-on-Thames, UKGoogle Scholar
  45. UNICEF. (2007). Climate change and children. New York: United Nations Children’s Fund.Google Scholar
  46. United Nations. (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, our common future – The Brundtland Report, United Nations.Google Scholar
  47. United Nations. (1992). Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Report of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm, 5–16 June 1972.Google Scholar
  48. Watts, N., Adger, W. N., Agnolucci, P., Blackstock, J., Byass, P., Cai, W., Chaytor, S., Colbourn, T., Collins, M., Cooper, A., Cox, P. M., Depledge, J., Drummond, P., Ekins, P., Galaz, V., Grace, D., Graham, H., Grubb, M., Haines, A., Hamilton, I., Hunter, A., Jiang, X., Li, M., Kelman, I.,Liang, L., Lott, M., Lowe, R., Luo, Y., Mace, G., Maslin, M., Nilsson, M., Oreszczyn, T., Pye, S., Quinn, T., Svensdotter, M., Venevsky, S., Warner, K., Xu, B., Yang, J., Yin, Y., Yu, C.,Zhang, Q., Gong, P., Montgomery, H., Costello, A. (2015). Health and climate change: Policy responses to protect public health. The Lancet, Vol. 386, No. 10006, pp. 1861–1914.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. World Future Council and Centre for International Sustainable Development Law. (2010). National Policies and International Instruments to Protect the Rights of Future Generations. Retrieved October 9, 2012, from
  50. World Health Organization. (2014). Children: Reducing mortality. WHO Media Centre.Google Scholar
  51. World Health Organization. (2015). World Malaria report 2014. Children, Climate Change, and the Intergenerational Right to a Viable Future 21.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Macquarie Law SchoolMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Environmental SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations