A group of 16 children from five continents, including Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, have filed a legal complaint against five countries that could require them to change laws to amplify the fight against climate change.
It comes, in part, with the two Global Climate Strikes that bookended the United Nations' Global Climate Summit. The second of the strikes is scheduled Friday, a week after millions of people marched to take action on climate change.
The five countries named in the complaint are Argentina, Brazil, France, Turkey and Germany.
"They were named since they are the highest emitters that have ratified the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, on which the complaint is built," Thunberg said in a tweet on Tuesday, adding that the United States, China and Saudi Arabia have not ratified the treaty.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified in 1989 and aims to protect the rights of children. It is the most widely-ratified human rights treaty in history.
"The argument is that by not doing enough to mitigate or adapt to climate change, the respondents have failed to fulfill the duty to serve the interests of the children's right to life, health and culture," said Erica Lyman, a professor of international environmental law at Lewis & Clark College.
If the young climate activists win in their complaint, the United Nations will make recommendations to those five countries based on their obligations under the treaty.
"While the recommendations are not legally binding, these nations have committed to follow the recommendations," according to a statement from Earthjustice, which is representing the young activists. "The obligations spelled out under the Convention on the Rights of the Child are binding."
Lyman said the United Nations would tell the countries that the children's rights are not being protected and that they are "disregarding and not fulfilling their obligations to mitigate and adapt to climate change."
"These children want recognition that current trends suggest that their inheritance is a climate change crisis, and they want bold, brave, and precautionary action to mitigate it," she said.
In a press conference Monday announcing the complaint, the 16 young climate activists ranging in age from 8 to 17 stood shoulder-to-shoulder explaining the toll climate change has had on their communities. They hail from 12 countries across five continents, ranging from the Arctic regions of Sweden to the tropical Marshall Islands. Some have a history of climate activism, while others only recently were galvanized to act.
Though Thunberg's thundering and direct address to the United Nations General Assembly elicited the most media attention, these young people at the conference are just as outspoken.
"This is the right thing to say, and this is the truth, and this is our life that is being harmed and our future," said Brazilian activist Catarina Lorenzo, 12.
Carlos Manuel, a 17-year-old who lives in Palau, a small island country in the western Pacific Ocean, criticized larger nations that are creating the most emissions.
"I want bigger countries to know that us small island nations are the most vulnerable countries to be affected by climate change," he said. "Our homes are being slowly swallowed up by the ocean."
Below is a look at who the young activists are, according to information from the complaint. Though they're from all across the world, they're unified by their stories of climate change ravaging their homes and livelihoods.
Greta Thunberg, 16; Stockholm, Sweden
The most well-known of the group is Greta Thunberg, who started skipping school on Fridays in Sweden to protest political inaction on climate change outside the Swedish parliament. Through social media, her #FridaysForFuture protests spread globally.
And she's become the face of the youth movement. In August, she sailed from the United Kingdom to New York City on a two-week zero-emissions boat voyage. The trip was so she could attend the United Nations meeting on climate, where she passionately called out politicians again for their inaction.
Carl Smith, 17; Akiak, Alaska
A member of the indigenous Yupiaq tribe, Carl Smith learned how to hunt and fish from Yupiaq elders. Carl fears "the Yupiaq way of life will disappear" as a result of climate change.
His community's salmon population has been dying from heat in unprecedented numbers. Its caribou population has also suffered due to melting ice, which prohibits them from crossing through to Yupiaq hunting areas.
Ranton Anjain, 17; Ebeye Island, Marshall Islands
Ranton Anjain, is from Ebeye Island, the most populous of the Marshall Islands located in the central Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the Philippines. He is a participant in the nonprofit program Heirs to Our Oceans, where he advocates for "climate issues with local leaders." "Climate change is destroying my islands through sea level rise and storms," he said at the press conference.
Ranton contracted dengue fever in 2019, which is now prevalent in the Marshall Islands. A 6-year-old in the Island died this summer from dengue.
David Ackley III, 16; Majuro, Marshall Islands
David Ackley III lives in Majuro, the Marshall Islands' capital, but was born in Illinois. He contracted chikungunya, a rare viral disease that, along with the zika virus, was introduced to the Marshall Islands in recent years. According to the World Health Organization, chikungunya is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes infected with the virus. It causes fever and severe joint pain.
He also took part in Heirs to Our Oceans, where he "spoke with government officials about passing legislation to protect the environment." He's also an athlete, playing basketball with a club team.
Litokne Kabua, 16; Ebeye, Marshall Islands
Litokne Kabua and his family were forced to evacuate to a U.S. Army base after violent storms ravaged his home. He has a history of environmental work, studying coral health on the Marshall Islands, which, in recent years, has suffered the worst coral bleaching in history, according to Rice University.
"Climate change is affecting the way I live. It has taken away my home, the land and the animals," he said in the statement. Litokne wants to work for the government to activate the global fight against climate change.
Deborah Adegbile, 12; Lagos, Nigeria
The increasingly volatile weather in Deborah Adegbile's home of Lagos has created unstable conditions in the city, the nation's economic driver.
Extreme flooding in Lagos, caused by a rainy season that lasts eight months results in the spread of infectious diseases. When it floods too much, she said, "my parents have to carry me and my two siblings, lifting us off the ground because we can't walk."
Deborah was hospitalized multiple times for malaria and asthma as a result of the extreme floods and worsening air quality.
Carlos Manuel, 17; Koror, Palau
Carlos Manuel was born in the Philippines and moved to Palau — which is about 950 miles east of the Philippines — when he was 8 years old. Three years later, Super Typhoon Haiyan wiped out an entire island north of Palau, forcing its residents to relocate.
Sea level rise in the Pacific has resulted in waves crashing into homes in Palau, while intense drought resulted in a state of emergency in 2016 — drying up the soil and nearby rivers and affecting indigenous subsistence farmers.
Ayakha Melithafa, 17, Cape Town, South Africa
Ayakha Melithafa's mother supports her family 100 miles away from her home in Cape Town through farm work, which has been afflicted by a "terrible drought."
But in Cape Town, residents have begun preparing for "Day Zero," the day when the city will run out of municipal water — and may be the first major city in the world to ever do so. Caused by a yearslong drought, the warning has resulted in rationing and water restrictions. Recent floods have also affected the water supply, which has caused her neighbors to get sick from drinking the water.
Ellen-Anne, 8; Karesuando, Sweden
Ellen-Anne is part of the indigenous Sami community and lives in the Arctic region of Sweden. She's spent her childhood learning how to raise reindeer, but climate change has resulted in starvation and mass death of the population.
Threats to their food supply are caused by warming and rain, which forms a layer of ice and makes grazing difficult, according to Åshild Ønvik Pedersen, an ecologist at the Norwegian Polar Institute.
Raslen Jbeli, 17; Tabarka, Tunisia
Raslen Jbeli grew up in Tabarka, where, in recent years, climate change has created conditions for "four seasons in one day."
In 2017, there were 146 wildfires in Tabarka, a far cry from the 37 wildfires from a year before. Last year, a wildfire burned through his neighborhood — his home was spared, but "it burned down many of our neighbors' homes."
Floods are also frequent, shutting down his school for weeks at a time. Once, overflowing rivers fatally swept away children walking home from school.
Alexandria Villaseñor, 14; New York City, New York
Alexandria Villaseñor drew national attention after the Paradise fires in 2018, which ravaged her health, exacerbated her asthma and resulted in anxiety and panic attacks. She relocated to New York City, where she ended up bedridden and hospitalized from her asthma due to the city's poor air quality.
Inspired by Greta, she's led Fridays for the Future strikes in the United States — and has led a youth organization of her own creation called Earth Uprising. The non-governmental organization "mobilizes youths" to spark actions in their own communities.
Chiara Sacchi, 17; Haedo, Argentina
Chiara Sacchi said an "unthinkable" windstorm ravaged her neighborhood in recent years, blowing the roofs off her neighbors' homes and flooding the land. She also said power outages caused by intense heat prevent her from doing homework.
She's involved with Terra Madre, an Italian organization with a global network that works to aid small-scale farmers and food producers who are affected most by climate change.
Catarina Lorenzo, 12; Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
An aspiring surfer, Catarina Lorenzo lives by the largest reef in Brazil, the Abrolhos Bank reef. Climate change, she says, has resulted in a lack of rain, causing water shortages and forest fires, including those in the Amazon.
She said when it does rain, the storms are so severe that it results in evacuation. The Brazilian government also opens up the sewage system in these floods, pushing sewage overflow into the rivers and oceans.
Iris Duquesne, 16; Bordeaux, France
Iris Duquesne was born in 2003, the year a heat wave killed about 14,000 people in France — and at least 30,000 across Europe, per Encyclopedia Britannica. Extreme weather events have been a constant in her life, including Cyclone Xynthia, which flooded the city in 2010 and caused her to develop a fear of rain.
Storms and heat have affected the economy in her hometown of Bordeaux, the world's most famous wine region. In 2019, Bordeaux took the unprecedented measure of using nontraditional grapes in its namesake wine — an effect of climate change causing the grapes commonly used in Merlot to over ripen.
Raina Ivanova, 15; Hamburg, Germany
The city of Hamburg, which is known for its canals, has suffered from heat waves, resulting in the cancellation of boat services due to "dangerously low" water levels in the city's rivers.
However, storms have gotten so severe that the same canals overflow, flooding Hamburg's streets. When Cyclone Herwert ravaged the city in 2017, it forced Raina Ivanova to wade through knee-deep water to walk to school.
Raina participates in Fridays for the Future, Greta's initiative, where she draws signs and "sings songs about the climate" with her friends.
Ridhima Pandey, 11; Haridwar, India
Ridhima Pandey has taken legal action against her country for not taking effective measures against climate change. In 2017, at the age of 9, she sued the Indian government for "not acting as they should to prevent climate change." Her petition is pending in the Supreme Court of India.
She lives by the Ganges River, a sacred river that has been affected by pollution. It begins at the Himalayas, but by the time it reaches the sea, per Reuters, it turns into toxic sludge due to ineffective flood infrastructures. When it floods during storms, she says, it closes schools and streets. Stagnant water also creates a prime environment for mosquitoes, which resulted in her mother suffering from typhoid.
Follow Joshua Bote on Twitter: @joshua_bote
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Climate change protest: Greta Thunberg, 15 children file UN complaint