A United Nations panel said Monday that it could not immediately rule on a complaint by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and other youth activists that countries’ inaction on climate change violates children’s rights. The panel said that they should have brought cases in national courts first.

The complaint was filed with the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2019, and the 18-member panel has been conducting hearings and deliberating since.

The 16 activists, including Alexandria Villaseñor of the United States, were between the ages of 8 and 17 at the time. They had argued that France, Turkey, Brazil, Germany and Argentina had known about the risk of climate change for decades but failed to control their carbon emissions. The group asked the committee to force the countries to act to protect children.

The case is one of a growing number of climate litigation cases that invokes human rights and is seen as an important ruling because it may affect how future cases are decided.

The committee, made up of 18 independent human rights experts, concluded that a “sufficient causal link” had been established between the significant harm the complaint says children have suffered and the acts or omissions of the five states.

However, it accepted the arguments of the five countries that the children should have tried to bring cases to their national courts first.

“You were successful on some aspects but not on others,” the committee told the youth activists in a letter, in which it saluted their “courage and determination.”

“We hope that you will be empowered by the positive aspects of this decision, and that you will continue to act in your own countries and regions and internationally to fight for justice on climate change,” it said.

One important detail of the ruling was that the committee found that it can deal with cases even if the harmful effects of one country’s emissions are felt by children in another country.

The activists come from 12 countries: Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Palau, Marshall Islands, Nigeria, South Africa, Sweden, Tunisia and the United States.

The committee monitors the actions of countries that signed a 1989 convention that declared the unassailable civil, economic, political and cultural rights of children. The convention has 196 state parties.

A smaller number of countries, 48, have agreed to a system that allows children to seek action to fix violations of the convention, and these include the five countries that are named in the case.

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