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Japan Youth Ecology League (Eco-League)

This month's Close UP features the Japan Youth Ecology League (Eco-League), which was established in 1994 to link young people around the nation who are involved in environmental activities. Officially registered as an incorporated non-profit organization in February 2012, the organization has been promoting various ecological activities led by youth towards its goal to achieve a sustainable society. For this interview, we spoke to vice director general Hiroki Fukushima, who had just returned from his trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June to attend the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, and asked him to tell us about the organization's activities as well as his impressions about the Rio +20 conference.

Hiroki Fukushima, vice director general At front door of Eco-League office in Shinjuku

Hiroki Fukushima, vice director general
At front door of Eco-League office in Shinjuku

Please tell us how Eco-League was first founded.

A. Prior to the Earth Summit (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, there was a movement that developed in about 50 countries worldwide including Japan to gather opinions from young people and present them to the conference. Student-led environmental activities started becoming popular then, and in response to the need to organize such youth environmental groups into a network, the National Youth Environmental Association (Eco-League) was formed in 1994. As its name says, the organization was basically an alliance of youth environmental groups at first; in 2000, however, we changed our organization concept to become an aggregate of eco-conscious young individuals. Yet, our main purpose has not been changed since the beginning, and it is to vitalize the environmental movement with young energy by expanding a network of young Japanese people.

What are the major activities at Eco-League?

A. We have three main goals of our activities, which are: "vitalization of networks," "development of human resources," and "communication with society." Since we were originally founded to connect young people together, our efforts are mainly dedicated to "vitalizing networks." The most central project for this goal is a camp-style environmental event which we call "gathering." At the gathering event, young people who are interested in environmental issues, from high school students to college students to young businessmen, get together to report each activity updates, discuss related topics, and hold study groups on environmental issues. Once a year, we have an annual national gathering, which is a 4-night/5-day program, and over 200 participants come and join this event every year. Regional gatherings are also held occasionally in the Kanto, Kansai, Tohoku and other regions.

At a national gathering event At a national gathering event

At a national gathering event ©Japan Youth Ecology League

Do you have any smaller events for those who cannot commit themselves to a five-day camp?

A. We do have one-day events such as "eco information exchange" (Tokyo) and "econnect" (Osaka). These informative events aim to invite people who are new to the field and help them learn about active environmental groups and their projects. At our offices in Tokyo and Kansai, we also open "Eco-League Cafe" where a small group of participants exchange their opinions about key environmental topics in a relaxed atmosphere. These events are very casual and are open to anyone.

What are your current projects to "develop human resources"?

A. We hold an annual "environmental" job fair in both Kanto and Kansai regions. The event in Kanto takes place at a business exhibition called the Eco-Products, and we have about 300 students visiting us every year. We bring in about 50 businessmen who work for various positions in the environmental field as job counselors, and ask them to speak with students not as a representative of companies, governments, or organizations to which they belong, but rather more personally, sharing with the students their own stories of why they have chosen their jobs or what they are seeing in reality at work. We also have skill-up seminars, where student participants learn critical skills required for various environmental activities. We invite speakers in their twenties to forties who are younger and can speak from young people's point of view about such skills as organization management and facilitation.

At a national gathering event At a national gathering event

"Environmental" job fair ©Japan Youth Ecology League

How about projects for "communicating with society"?

Brochures that introduce
the CCC survey result

A. We have been working on several projects to challenge environmental issues by making the best use of our experiences in networking, event organization, and other know-how we have. One of the projects is "Campus Climate Challenge" (CCC), which is led by college students and aims to promote countermeasures against climate changes at college campuses. We send survey questionnaires to all of 750 universities and colleges nationwide to study how many environmental burdens are created at the campuses, what kind of prevention measures against global warming are taken at the campuses, and so on. Among those who have replied to the survey, some of the "most ecological" schools are listed and honored in the "Eco College Ranking." Based on the results of the survey, the students also put together the "National Eco College White Paper." It is interesting to see how the survey revealed which schools have been making step-by-step efforts from their own point of view. Overall, we find more and more colleges and universities are trying to proactively challenge the problem of global warming.

Can you tell us about any other "communicate with society" projects?

A."Resources & 3R Revolution" is a project that targets various issues related to metal resources. With the help of Panasonic Corporation, we have created an educational material to teach students about so called "conflict minerals." In Congo, the armed groups control mines and buy weapons by mining and selling rare metals. On the other hand, young people in Japan rarely know that the rare metals that are used in their cell phones have been the source to fund such conflicts in Africa. We are hoping to visit as many junior high schools as possible to teach the students about the issue using this material. Additionally, as a co-hosting event, we organize "National College Student Ecology Activity Contest" (ecocon).

Members of Chocolate Project team packing chocolates

Mr. Fukushima explains about the educational material designed to teach junior high school students about conflict minerals

We understand that Eco-League is also very active internationally.

A. Eco-League functions as a Japanese liaison of TUNZA-NEAYEN (North East Asia Youth Environment Network), which is one of the regional networks of the youth strategy program TUNZA organized by the United Nations Environment Programme. NEAYEN's member countries are China, Japan, South Korea, and Mongol, and the network holds a conference once a year to bring young leaders from these countries together. As one of our accomplishments, we have published a brochure "The Generation of Change," which included articles written by young environmental activists and groups around Asia with whom we came to know through the TUNZA networks. Our other past and current jobs include coordinating the "Environmental Youth Meeting of Japan, China and Korea," which is held under the "Tripartite Environment Ministers Meeting among China, Japan and Korea," and supporting the "Conference of Asian Youth on Biodiversity in Aichi 2009" that was held prior to the 10th meeting of the "Conference of Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity" (COP10) in 2010.

Brochures published by Eco-League based on its international experiences At the Conference of Asian Youth on Biodiversity in Aichi 2009

Brochures published by Eco-League based
on its international experiences

At the Conference of Asian Youth
on Biodiversity in Aichi 2009
©Japan Youth Ecology League

Please tell us about your experience at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20).

A. The conference encouraged the participation of the citizen sector in different fields, and Eco-League joined the conference as one of the "Children and Youth" sector organizations. Prior to the main conference, about 1,000 representatives gathered at the Conference of Youth and exchanged opinions about the history of the Earth Summit, the objectives of Rio +20 and other topics, and mapped out strategic plans of how we should approach the themes to be examined at the main conference and on what we should focus our discussions there. We also had regional youth meetings by dividing the participants from around the world into the groups of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America.

Brochures published by Eco-League based on its international experiences At the Conference of Asian Youth on Biodiversity in Aichi 2009

At the Conference of Youth
for RIO +20 ©Japan Youth Ecology League

At the Conference of Youth Asia
region meeting
©Japan Youth Ecology League

Can you also tell us about the lobbying action that the youth sector took at RIO +20 ?

A. As part of the negotiations at the conference, a proposal for building a better future for children of next generations by establishing an investigating section ,which is solely dedicated to the research of youth-related developmental policies and projects in a longer term to make reports to the UN General Assembly, was included. After finding out that the proposal was deleted in the process of the negotiations, the participants of the youth sector began lobbying in groups to speak to each country's representatives who are in charge of the negotiations, and made a visual appeal in front of the conference room by taping and sealing each of their own mouths, asking to "give future generations a voice." Eventually, in the outcome document, a compromise proposal was included stating that the possibility will be examined of a report on the future generations by the UN Secretary General to be submitted to the UN General Assembly. Without our lobbying activities, even this statement would have been deleted.

Brochures published by Eco-League based on its international experiences At the Conference of Asian Youth on Biodiversity in Aichi 2009

Youth participants making an appeal in front of the conference room
©Japan Youth Ecology League

Were you inspired at RIO +20 for any new visions for the future?

A. Seeing how youths from Europe demonstrated by their actions, I become acutely aware of the need of organized activities by youth, directed by a strong leadership. What we need to do is: first to create a place by local level where young people's opinions are heard and shared; then to open a place where local youth leaders representing their communities gather to discuss environmental issues on local, national, or global levels; and finally to communicate their discussions as a voice of young generations to the national government, businesses, and to the world. Building such a system is my next biggest challenge I want to try.

Lastly, please share your message to our readers.

A. You can start to take actions for our environment simply by turning the light off more frequently; avoiding the purchase of products that are likely to become a waste, and many other things you can do by yourself. Such small actions may not seem meaningful at first, or you may wonder why you have to do those anyway while others continue to waste our resources. I would like you to remember, however, that all those environmental issues we are facing today are the result of the actions each of us have taken. There will be no change unless each of us starts doing what we can do. The entire nation of Japan has been searching for best plans for the energy issues that the country will have to face in the future, and some of the major long-term energy policies until 2030 will be discussed and determined during this summer. It is important to know what is currently on the discussion table, to organize your ideas and opinions, and to exchange your opinions with family members or friends. I also encourage you to find and join a local discussion group if any, where you can express your ideas and learn from others to decide what you really have to do next.