On Tuesday, November 15, 2011, the United Nations hosted the “Mobilizing Youth for a Successful Rio+20.” The event was sponsored by Peace Child International, and featured speakers from the UN and the EU, and leaders of youth organizations from around the world, speaking to the importance of energizing the world’s youth in advance of Rio+20, the United Nations’ Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012.
The event began with remarks from David Woollcombe, the President of Peace Child . He indicated that “we recognize…that next June is a make or break moment for the planet, for the young people who are passing through our schools at the moment, because unless we can figure out a way to live the kind of lifestyle that we’re enjoying today without fossil fuels we’re not going to be able to keep the lights on or the wheels of industry turning at the end of this century.”
The Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Dr. Asha-Rose Migro, turned the audience’s attention to the successful movements undertaken by youth around the world over the last year. She said that “youth have been driving change, standing up against injustice, [and] demanding dignity and opportunity.” Then she sat back to listen to representatives of those youth from around the world representing Road to Rio+20, who set out their message and vision.
The Road to Rio+20 is a coalition formed last January out of more than fifty organizations focused on youth and sustainability issues. Its leaders met in New York City last weekend to plan the next phase of the roadmap, under the supervision of its Director, Nicolo Wojewoda. He opened the presentation by emphasizing that youth concerns for a sustainable future must be taken into account, but that their collective voice will be heard only action over the coming months. Road to Rio+20 representatives then laid out a series of aspirations and objectives for that time period, including a global day of action, an online mobilization campaign, and a series “asks” to be directed at individual countries prior to the conference. These would include a demand that heads of state personally attend the conference, that the youth be provided resources for mobilization, and that delegations from each state include official youth representatives.
The presentation concluded with a question and answer session, which included a discussion of the nature of the green economy and what part it can play in sustainable development. Notable was the question of how the Occupy movement might potentially relate to international sustainable development work, on the day when Mayor Bloomberg evicted the protesters from Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. Elizabeth Thompson, the Executive Coordinator for Rio+20, concluded by saying that without the imprint of youth, “then we really are not achieving sustainable development planning at all. Because ultimately, sustainable development planning is not about what is happening to today but what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and when you are my age.”
By Alex White, Human Impacts Institute Director of Outreach and Advocacy