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Green Lights: shining examples of young environmental initiatives

The process of compiling the inspirational practices you find in “Green Lights” showed us some overall challenges that the initiatives and projects face. Click on the following two icons to see the lessons we learnt and the recommendations we give for Environmental Children Rights (ECR) programming.

Lessons learned

1. Definition and knowledge of Environmental Children’s Rights (ECR)

The lack of a common understanding of ECR and their definition poses challenges – all practitioners working in projects with children and youth on their rights to a healthy environment should be informed on ECR and trained on how to implement them to properly engage in activities that will lead to change in local contexts and communities. This is key both for children, youth, local organisations and other partners.

For years now, tdh Germany and partners have worked on all topics related to children’s rights and the environment in the most various contexts. From urban to rural, from a more spiritual to a more objective approach. Therefore, several are the definitions and understandings on ECR. 

“We would really like to have a definition of ECR that includes [the] spiritual and traditional [element]… not just scientific understanding [but also] beliefs.” (ECR team leader, South-East Asia Region) 

Considering and valuing these important elements from practice, but also bearing in mind the historic resolution adopted by the UNGA in July 2022, we tend to understand the rights of children and the environment in a holistic way considering it to be the children’s right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. 

2. Political tensions

Political hurdles have been identified as a challenge in several regions. Some topics are also more politicised than others – one of them being environmental degradation and climate change - which makes it very difficult to discuss.

Politics may limit the work of ECR practitioners especially in terms of restricting the freedom of expression and child rights implementation. 

The application of the ‘do no harm’ principle is fundamental in this context, and all practitioners should avoid exposure of children and young people to the political risks associated with advocacy and activism. 

The political instability that many countries experience is another challenge. Elections’ turnarounds are not helpful because partners build ties with government officials that are no longer useful.

What has been observed as a good approach is to build strong ties with local actors and governmental partners since project inception, as it gives political leaders more accountability and responsibility vis-à-vis ECR projects. In so doing, the ties shall last longer than one political mandate and be closer linked to the agenda of the ECR projects in question.  

Businesses often contribute to environmental degradation and in certain contexts have strong political leverage. The ability to build partnerships with the private sector and support environmentally friendly practices in businesses requires greater attention. Depending on the context, activists may, for instance, stand against polluters; however, a path to reach the goal (end of pollution) can be to seek an open dialogue with relevant stakeholders (business sector, politicians, community members etc.), expose the problematic and the impacts to the communities and their own lives and try to identify possible solutions. If the business sector is able to identify direct gains for themselves like CSR, marketing, acceptance by residents, fulfilment of international trade and production requirements, acceptance and cooperation with residents, they may be more willing to end their negative activities. Such peaceful dialogue is sadly sometimes very difficult to reach, as polluters sometimes act very aggressive. 

3. Attacks on environmental human rights defenders

One of the most prominent challenges identified was attacks on young environmental human rights defenders. 

In South Asia, child-led advocacy is becoming increasingly restricted, particularly in India. Activists are often attacked or arrested, as recent media reports have shown.

Latin American staff reported difficulties in protecting children as environmental human rights defenders. In Colombia, for instance, several activists have been killed. To counteract these dangerous trends, there is some training provided in Colombia on child protection and self-protection. The Escazu Agreement has become an important regional tool to support and protect the lives of environmental rights defenders. 

Risks of participation for children have also been highlighted in South-East Asia. Sometimes, children may face dangerous situations as a consequence of participating in ECR-related activities: there have been reports of activists and environmental human rights defenders being put in prison and/or attacked

For example, in Cambodia colleagues have focused on the importance of ‘social safety nets’ to mitigate risks for children and enhance protection from adults too. The tdh Regional Office for South East Asia (ROSEA) is particularly concerned with the creation of a safe space for children to exercise their rights. Southern African tdh staff have reported on Zimbabwean children and partners being put at high security risks for advocating against mining companies. Accordingly, they have indicated the pressing need to provide solid training on safety and security to children when engaging in advocacy spaces. 

The main lesson learned here is that we should strictly follow the do-no-harm principle, as described in several sections of Green Lights. Children and young people should never be motivated to be put in dangerous situations while standing for their rights. A thorough risk analysis should be part of all project stages, from planning throughout implementation. Children, young people and staff should always be aware of realistic threats and of the limits how far they can or decide to go.

Another important lesson learned is that environmental human rights defenders are safer when acting in large networks. Individual persons and organisations should avoid exposing themselves; on the contrary, integrating into a larger network has proven to be a safer option even in sensitive (political) settings.

Last but not least, data security and safe communication becomes more and more important. Emails that cross from one provider to another are as safe as an open letter: not at all. Sensitive information should always be shared within safe systems (end-to-end encrypted with sender and receiver in the same system,) and handled carefully. Sometimes you should even consider not to share certain information at all (names, locations, phone numbers, sensitive documents).  

4. Attitudes towards children (particularly girls)

Issues with girls and in particular young girls living in rural or remote locations have been recounted in Latin America and are related to stigma girls may face while participating in ECR-related projects. Their participation may in fact affect their present and future lives: they are at higher risk than male children of being stigmatised and excluded as well as becoming victims of violence, as punishment for participation.

A suggested solution to the problem is to foster an intergenerational dialogue. For instance, theatre activities involving different generations provided an inclusive environment for children and youth to participate, promoting community dialogue and changing community dynamics.

tdh practitioners working in the South-East Asia region expressed how certain adults and people in power – including policy- and decision-makers - can have negative mindsets and attitudes toward children. Indeed, young people’s participation in ECR-related activities and projects is not always accepted, even at the household level. 

“How can we change the mindset of the policy makers and business sector? How can we make the voices of youth heard?” (ECR team member, South-East Asia Region) 

These are important questions that should prompt reflections on how to best balance child protection and child participation – in particular, how children can be included in a safe and meaningful way. 

5. Fundraising and budgeting

Budget remains a fundamental aspect in terms of effective project implementation which should not be underestimated. Frontier child participation can mean involving children and young people in fundraising and assigning them a budget to lead initiatives and activities to promote their right to a healthy environment. Please note that fundraising should of course not "make use of children” for an organisation’s gain as we perceive participation not in a tokenistic, but as an essential milestone that emerges from the children and young people themselves who would also directly benefit from it.  

6. Coordination and linguistic barriers

Two other interlinked areas that should be strengthened is coordination across countries which is also connected to linguistic challenges, since not all tdh staff and partners are familiar with English. Also, guidelines and operational documents are often in English, but this is a barrier for most beneficiaries and many practitioners who speak other languages and do not understand English. 

The selection of children as representatives is also impacted by language and should be viewed in light of integrating more children and young people coming from marginalised communities and/or difficult backgrounds. Effective representation and participation of children means opening dialogue with a diverse group of children and young people, not only the most privileged ones. This means that not only English-speaking participants should be selected and the conditions for a meaningful participation of children and young people speaking all other languages must be ensured, through budget planning for interpretation and translation (including sign-language). 

7. Evidence generation and monitoring

Many projects have scope for improvement in evidence and data collection. Often projects lack a strong evidence or data base (including a rigorous monitoring and evaluation system). It is recommended to:  

  • Identify relevant baseline data before or during the project start; 

  • Plan a budget for the establishment of a monitoring and evaluation framework with a list of project outputs, outcomes and impacts, and follow up on those as the project rolls out;   

  • Identify a solid “theory of change” at the beginning of a project.  

This improves the ability of the organisation to learn from its own projects and generate evidence for the wider public. It also allows for steering during the project since some planned activities may prove to be unrealistic or less relevant than others that are identified during the project. 

8. Crisis contexts: example, the COVID-19 pandemic

As often the case during crisis situations, also the COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges in ECR project implementation in several cases.

COVID-19 shifted many priorities: most attention and resources were focused on emergency responses to the pandemic which led to reduced efforts in other key areas, such as ECR. 

The COVID-19 pandemic brought to reduced opportunities for civil society to engage in international and intergovernmental spaces. The shift to virtual and remote methods of engagement and participation required extra efforts and a large use of resources which was not always possible. In some cases, this led to the exclusion of civil society from key decision-making processes. 

Similarly, the pandemic caused several problems in communication activities since technology and internet access for children and youth living in rural and remote locations were limited.

In some contexts, the challenges were overcome by some fruitful replacement activities. For instance, in Zimbabwe there was an initiative to bring together, in a compendium, environmental opinions, essays, poems and stories on ECR, collected during the pandemic. 

In a constructive way, in some contexts the COVID-19 pandemic shed light on the importance of the implementation of projects dealing with ECR and food security: it led to new initiatives to improve access to water and food to famine struck areas along with private enterprises and local municipalities. 

What is tdh doing to reduce its own carbon footprint?

At tdh – Germany HQ level

At tdh – Germany HQ level, the office obtained an environmental certificate as the following strategies were implemented: 

  • Solar panels were installed on the roof, covering large parts of the energy consumption. 

  • Water heaters have timers and energy-saving models are used when replaced. 

  • A standardised office room temperature was established. 

  • The heating system was checked by an external specialist company. 

  • Toilets have water-saving buttons. 

  • Environmental standards for printed products were introduced. 

  • Staff catering converted to regional, vegetarian and organic options with paper-based carton instead of aluminium boxes. 

  • Catering for guests at conferences converted to regional, vegetarian and organic options. 

  • CO2 compensation for all business trips (car, flight, train) introduced via the climate collection scheme. 

  • A job ticket for employees was introduced. 

  • Regular retreats / further training of the environmental team was organised. 

  • Nesting boxes were hung for birds. 

  • Bee hotels were installed. 

  • A flower meadow was planted. 

At tdh regions

At tdh regions the following strategies have been implemented:  

  • In tdh Germany ROSEA the "No Single-Use Plastic Movement" brought about by tdh Thailand has proposed to limit the use of single-use plastic across activities of tdh and project partners at all levels such as meetings, trainings, field visits, project activities etc. Various initiatives have been undertaken, these are a few examples:  
  1. DCCN project visit: Fabric bags and lunch packed in banana leaf when visiting project sites. 

  2. CPCR activities and meetings: No single-use plastic for all activities, lunches and breaks. 

  3. SCPP meetings: no single-use plastic. 

  4. GABFAI ECR food training and activities: activities and policies on “No Single-Use Plastic”. 

  • tdh Germany SACO recently approved an environmental policy for the organisation. The policy is in the process of being implemented across project countries. Among other things it includes promotion of the use of alternative transportation, like bicycles and trains, as much as possible; reduction in the use of single-use plastic, etc.  

  • tdh Germany ROSA has approved an Environmental Commitment Policy. The policy is intended to:  

  • Reduce to a minimum the use of energy - fossil or renewable. 

  • Minimise the use of consumer goods like paper, banners, vehicles, electricity, water, plastic, etc. unless it is absolutely necessary.  

  • Reduce the wastage and pollution of water. 

  • Reduce the carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions of the organisation (by traveling by train and bus instead of flights). 

  • Separate waste streams, re-use, recycle and compost materials wherever possible. 

  • Purchase products preferably from suppliers that meet environmental and ethical criteria. 

  • Maintain a healthy working environment for staff and avoid products that are harmful to health. 

To reduce CO2 emissions and reduce its carbon footprint, ROSA adopts strategies in various aspects of their work, including travel, office, food and with projects/partners.  

Moreover, the tdh ROSA youth network  has been very involved with reducing the use of plastic, including through campaigns. Here are a few examples: 

  1. Making twelve villages plastic free - campaign in 6 districts of Uttar Pradesh.  

  2. Cleaning of Yamuna River campaign, water resources (recharging of water) and Ganga ghat in Delhi, Uttarakhand and West Bengal (collection of plastic). 

  3. Collection of plastic used packets and sent to the organisation for recycling (Dr. V.K Bansal Charitable trust). 

  4. Reuse of plastic bottles for making decoration items. 

  5. # Voice for Green Earth campaign (45 days campaign from 22nd April to 5th June 2022), in this campaign different activities were organised to reduce the use of single use plastic. 

  6. Online petition was started by youth network (Say "No" to plastic):  https://chng.it/zxpYqVF5  

  • Tdh Germany ORLA does not have an environmental policy in place. However, the office has taken some steps to reduce its footprint, especially regarding reducing travel (making some monitoring visits virtually; having a virtual partner/youth meeting every two years).   

These strategies are an attempt to inspire change from within, in view of implementing environmental protection action and the enhancement of ECR in the organisation’s activities. 

Recommendations for ECR-based programming

Effective implementation of environmental children’s rights is one of the priorities of tdh Germany’s projects in relation to child participation, child rights and child protection. How to build effective ECR-based programming? Here are some evidence-based recommendations: 

  • Always integrate a child-rights lens when starting a new project/initiative, bearing in mind the principle of the best interest of the child. 

  • Implement an appropriate and complete child safeguarding policies, agreed by partners too. 

  • Use a rights analysis, a good practice before the implementation phase of a project: it equips children and partners with the necessary knowledge to effectively enforce ECR. 

  • Take children’s voices seriously into consideration and integrate them in follow-up processes once a project is finished. Inclusion should not be superficial. Ideally, children and young people should be involved in all stages of a project cycle: from funding strategies to its evaluation.  

  • Do no harm principle should be the guiding principle to avoid child exploitation. A risk analysis exercise should always be done prior to involving children in activities that could put them in danger or threaten their safety. 

  • Child-led initiatives should be prioritised with the final aim of making children and youth completely autonomous in ECR-related practices and projects – if the security situation / risk analysis allows. 

  • Engage with media for effective campaigning to include/be linked to global, large-scale initiatives. 

  • Environmental educational activities should include both the following: classroom and regular curricular content on ECR as well as after school activities such as eco-clubs and youth networks. 

  • Advocacy should be included in initiatives as a cross-cutting theme, implemented in each stage of the project cycle. 

  • Prioritise the involvement of grassroots organisations engaged with ECR protection, according to a bottom-up approach. Include ancestral/indigenous knowledge when possible. 

  • Community models for child participation should be employed more, depending on the context and the objectives of the project. 

  • Use integrated methodologies, as interconnections and relations between different themes – a project can tackle several key areas – should always be considered. 

  • Improve M&E practices for future references and standardise project management processes. 

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