The world’s children are particularly vulnerable to a degrading environment while simultaneously being essential stakeholders to, and key beneficiaries of environmental governance. At this moment in time, as the Climate Investment Fund (CIF) invites the voices of stakeholders to be heard, the international community is compelled to recognise that within decades, this demographic is, in effect the very one who must travel the path presently being charted to ‘climate-smart development.’
The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is a human rights instrument that binds signatories to acknowledge the rights of children and protect them. It defines and ensures children their right to participate in matters that impact their lives, thereby enabling them to influence local environmental conditions. Education is a key element toward granting the rights addressed in the CRC and fostering healthy and adequate development for children and communities.
The importance of education
Schooling is the most common means through which societies prepare their young people for the future. The Forest Investment Programme (FIP) is considered to be “a learning tool that initiates and facilitates transformational change in forest related policies and practices in developing countries.” In direct correlation, a case study conducted by Ricardo Codoy in the Tawahka community in Honduras, found that each additional year of education reduces the amount of old growth forests cut by households by 12% each year.
Further, a REDD+ project evaluation by CIFOR, conducted by Maria Fernanda Gebara in Juma, Brazil affirmed that the most concrete benefit of the social components of the project to date has been for the provision of education and community-based behaviour change through the main school of the project. Paradoxically, however, CIF projects do not yet recognise the transformational capacity of the children who consist of around 50% of the population in most participating countries.
The urgent need for rights based, environmentally responsible citizens in future generations calls for investments in ‘environment-friendly’ education and outreach, with special attention to the rights of girls, who are particularly impacted by climate change. Through empowerment and quality education, children of this generations, as the decision-makers of the future will be better equipped to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change and environmental degradation.
Children’s health is dependent on environmental conditions for many reasons. Within the context of climate change, intensified storms are threatening school infrastructure, and droughts and floods are affecting children’s health and their families’ livelihoods – all of which affect children’s ability to go to school. The Strategic Climate Fund (SCF) seeks to “pilot new approaches with potential for scaled-up, transformational action aimed at a specific climate change challenge or sectoral response.”
This further substantiates the contention that the education of children and young people (formal and non-formal) offers a sustainable and cost-effective strategy for protecting children from the negative effects of climate change and environmental degradation. Children who understand their local environment, patterns of consumption and waste, and how these interact with other parts of their lives can increase potential toward a just and sustainable future.
How CIF policies can include children as stakeholders
To be effective, CIF policy is compelled to recognise the importance of education in influencing human behaviour and improving environmental conditions. Conversely, planning of the education sector must take into account the complex environmental conditions and social settings in which children live, many of which are impacted by climate change.
Quality education stresses the importance of curriculum within the local context, which should account for differences in risks and priorities according to local environmental conditions. This approach calls for an integration of life-skills based knowledge with practical interaction in the natural world and school environmental facilities, such as gardens, indigenous tree nurseries, WASH facilities, etc.
National policies and practices associated with the CIF are required to promote investment in human capital and an active citizenry which, in the long run, will boost sustainable economic growth, reduce poverty, and promote regional peace and stability. Within this framework, school models, such as the Child Friendly School approach promoted by UNICEF, and Forest Community School approach promoted by ECI and Planet 2025, can cut across sectors toward sustainable and verifiable action both with and for children.
We assert that investment in the education of an informed and empowered citizenry begins at a young age and can balance the scales of intergenerational equity within communities, nations and the world at large. CIF supported programmes are urged to include the participation of community schools and to recognise the rights and capacities of children to bring about sustainable change.
Environmental governance relies on the children of today, who will as the adults of tomorrow carry the fight to save our planet from further destruction. The engagement and inclusion of children and environmental education in the FIP and SCF will seek to bridge the gap between the present and the future.