In early September, 2011, Human Impacts Institute’s European Representative, Mariana Orozco, will be reporting from her work meeting with global leaders in environmental policy and sustainable development in preparation for the 2012 Rio+20 Earth Summit.
Join the Community Conversation! What inspires you to get involved in your environment?
On September 5th, 2011, the 64th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference concluded with it’s final roundtable: “Sustainable Development Governance Issues From Local to Global: The Role of Citizen Participation”.
Thierno Kane, from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, spoke about the experience of the people in Senegal. After peacefully showing their disagreement, they realized their leaders remained deaf and decided to go on the streets. Under the motto “Enough is Enough,” they decided to call for active participation in democracy, not simple a representation without action. He explained how his view is not just at the national level, but that they are looking to Bonn, to New York, to Rio, and bring what is happening there to the young people of Senegal. There was clear emphasis placed on the importance of preparing youth at the grassroots level, transform them into responsible citizens. Kane concluded by saying this can be achieved through volunteerism, which he described as “living your humanity.”
Konrad Otto-Zimmerman, from ICLEI, spoke of how citizens can participate at all levels. Focused on his native Germany, he explained how at the local level, German citizens have a long tradition of participation in different organizations, clubs and activities, and how important these connections are for local change. At the national level, he expressed that it is more difficult since there is more distance, but that the country works hard to ensure that similar organizations are grouped, to unite people in a common cause. As for the global level, he admitted that is the most difficult, as it is perceived as very far away for the ordinary citizen; for example, when it comes to accessing the United Nations. He emphasized the need to close these gaps, since the climate is not bound to any country; it does not belong to any nation. The nation-state is not built to make these types of decisions and is not able to protect a global commons, which is why we need global participation at Rio+20 and beyond.
Farah Cherif d’Ouezzan, from the Thaqafat Association, spoke about the role of civil society in Morocco in light of the Arab Spring. She spoke of the situation of NGO’s in Morocco, how civil society faced problems when aiming to jump into politics. She drew attention as well to the role of youth, the majority in many Arab countries, in need of jobs and education. She emphasized trying to involve them and learn from them, especially after seeing the mobilization of youth in search of democracy. Cherif d’Ouezzan continued, emphasizing how the Arab Spring rose under the idea of “The People Want”. She pointed out how it was never like this in the past, it was what the government wanted. However, she remarked, in order to be full citizens, we also have to be responsible: It is important to help youth understand their role, the importance of volunteerism, and that they have to act. After the uprisings, there is hope to realize that if the people want something, they can reach it – but they must feel as full citizens for the change to happen
The last speaker of the conference, Geri Lau, from the International Federation of Red Cross, spoke about how people are the most important resource in the organization – people are at the center of activity. When people are not at the center, she said, development is not sustainable. Lau described how the Red Cross aims to enable everyone to achieve their full potential, with dignity. She emphasized change as a form of good governance and leadership, especially in emergency response organizations like the Red Cross, but that we also need caring. Accordingly, Lau challenged the audience, saying that it’s not just about grants and checking the box, but also about volunteering. She also emphasized the importance of youth to play a big role, to reach to adults, and have inter-generational dialogue. She called for impacting school curricula, starting with the very young, developing local leadership, and engaging youth. Lau asked organizations to take a look at themselves and ask whether they truly believe that youth have a place.
Acting as a respondent, John Matuszak from the US State Department, expressed how good it was that this conference had covered social issues, not just environmental issues. He emphasized that sustainable development is not just about the environment – that it’s about jobs, and youth, and education.As we look at Rio+20, he said, hopefully it will be something that will be succinct and focused, covered by media, and that people will be inspired. He expressed that it not be just the “lowest common denominator”, but a compendium of ideas that comes from societies around the world, using technologies to engage people that cannot be in Rio, reaching a commitment to allow us to go forward. Matuszak expressed his hopes that Rio be a new type of conference–not just from the government–but from the bottom up, with people telling government what and how they can change.
Later in the afternoon, there was a presentation entitled: Connecting the Dots in which 2011 was declared as the International Year of Volunteers. As volunteers gathered on stage to speak, they emphasized:
1. Recognition: the need to recognize the importance of volunteerism
2. Facilitation: how volunteering should be integrated into legislation and policies
3. Networking: how essential it is to have cohesive networks and partnership at all levels
4. Promotion: the basic element of tailoring messages to specific communities
The speakers pointed out that volunteerism but not be seen just as a nice thing to do, but as something valuable and necessary in society.
The final session announced the Conference Declaration, which was agreed upon the day before, a final 15 pages that represent the views of Conference attendees with hopes that the requests and voices of civil society will be clearly heard at Rio+20.
By Mariana Orozco, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Leadership Intern and European Representative