How Can We Engage People in Sustainable Development? Make it Sexy, Fun, and Understandable!

On December 15th, 2011, the Human Impacts Institute was invited to speak on a panel at the United Nations Second Intercessional Meeting in New York, in preparation for Rio+20, an international conference on sustainable development and poverty elimination. The panel,Mobilizing Civil Society for Sustainable Development and Rio+20 & The Special Role of Youth, brought together representatives from diverse groups working to engage civil society, with a focus on youth, in the issues and processes in Rio+20 and beyond.

Livening the Discussion!

As coordinators of MobilizeUS!, a movement to engage Americans environmental and community development issues, the Human Impacts Institute’s Executive Director, Tara DePorte, highlighted the need to bring the issues discussed inside the walls of the UN to our communities and onto the streets. How do we do this? DePorte’s answer was to make it fun and make it sexy. Furthermore, she emphasized the need to provide tools and language that really inspire youth and communities to take local actions for sustainable development. Caroline Howe, representative from UNICEF, further emphasized the need to not only give youth a voice, but to give them tools for action. Many panelists emphasized that a seat at the table is not enough, youth and civil society need to be trained in the processes and be full participants in Rio+20. Many panelists also emphasized the importance of civil society’s role as the implementers of sustainability initiatives in our communities. Ivana Savić, UNCSD Major Group for Children and Youth organizing partner, emphasized that our governments need to acknowledge this critical role with budgetary allocations that support youth and civil society’s work. Chantal Line Carpentier,Major Groups Programme Coordinator of the UNCSD Secretariat, called to for participants in the room to “tell me what you want from the UN” to support engagement in Rio+20 processes.

From ‘Us vs. Them’ to ‘Us’: Addressing Rio+20 as a Global CommunityAccording to the organizers of the event, International Association for the Advancement of Innovative Approaches to Global Challenges, “Global Sustainable development governance needs to be linked up more directly with global citizens, and to reach the so called ‘man, woman and child on the street’. Rio+20 and the new Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development have to aim at linking conceptually UN-led global sustainable development efforts with individual everyday lifestyle, consumption and resource sharing decisions of 7 billion global citizens.” Aron Belinky of the Brazilian Rio+20 Civil Society Facilitating Committee discussed the need for national governments to approach the discussions with a new mindset where they see the “world as more than the sum of the States”, particularly with our knowledge that issues such as economic prosperity, air and water quality, and many other pressing issues cannot be addressed successfully with merely a national perspective. Specifically looking at economic goals, Lisinka Ulatowska from World Citizens Action emphasized the need for governments and civil society to look beyond the current economic systems and even the “Green Economy” and to really address the need for a ‘commons-based sustainable economy’, where natural resource use and stewardship is central to our economy.

What are the Tools for Engagement?The Human Impacts Institute greatly emphasized the aggregation and development of MobilizeUS! creative tools for engaging civil society in the Rio+20 process and in real community transformation. As Caroline Howe of UNICEF emphasized, the action on-the-ground will be long-lasting, but talks at Rio+20 will end. What tools are available? MobilizeUS! has brought together numerous tools including, a Guide for a Rio+20 House Party, a technique that was very successful in the Obama 2008 Presidential Campaign for community engagement; An over 100-organization strong MobilizeUS! listserve to foster discussion among U.S. groups on actions and ideas for Rio; Monthly calls for advocacy and mobilization development; a Growing partnership with the Occupy movement to work to further communicate the link between the 99%, economy equity, and environmental stewardship; as well as, Creative outreach such as music festivals, art installations. They also emphasized that, although MoblizeUS! is a movement to engage people in the U.S., the tools developed by partner organizations are open for use in other communities across the globe to to mobilize in their communities. Chantal Line Carpentier discussed an upcoming UNCSD Secretariat partnership with PACE University in NYC to develop a 2012 Model UN across Universities to address Rio+20. Furthermore, Jean Paul Brice Affana,Rio+20 Global Youth Music Contest coordinator, discussed the use of music and youth competitions for Rio+20 as a way to engage youth and creativity in the process.

What Do We Want from Our Governments and What are We Committing?Human Impacts Institute’s Executive Director, Tara DePorte, closed the session asking participants to “walk the walk” and answer two questions:

  • What do you want YOUR GOVERNMENT to do to engage people in the Rio+20 process in your community? and

  • What do YOU commit to do to engage people in the Rio+20 process in your community?

Here are some of the ideas that came from participants. What are your ideas? Mail them to

  • I want the U.S. government to generate people power to install safe locally generated energy and massive conservation of energy resources and biodiversity, not fuel the burning of the planet with energy extremism.

  • I commit to engage my NYC community by supporting creative green culture at an unprecedented level and to embrace the power of New Yorkers to address the crises of today and tomorrow. System change, not climate change!

  • I want my government to create spaces for youth, local governments, cities and business leaders to come together to set plans for their local sustainable development.

  • I commit to engage my children and young people in UNICEF’s network to take action in their community.

  • I want my government to step up by being transparent, by showing leadership in its’ role as a developed country to address the inequalities that exist around the world. I want my government to ensure that youth impacted by the realities we experience to be represented and that it maintains the rights of the earth and of people front-and-center.

  • I commit to building opportunities in my own local community to engage youth whose voice have been silenced to find the power that they are an create the necessary opportunities to make the connections with local projects and roles at a global level. I personally commit to a life that is intentional, where every action made impacts future generations. I commit to living simply, so that others can live simply too.

  • I want the Chinese government to support its youth networks like the China Youth Climate Action Network.

  • I commit to mobilizing Chinese youth all over the world to form a great network.

  • I want the U.S. government and NY State and City government to support youth UN organizations with funding.

  • I commit to support bringing social media platforms and celebrities to the initiative.

  • I want my government to provide state and local governments with tools and resources to make cities green–starting with schools!

  • I commit to connecting the large youth groups involved with safe transport (and UN Decade of Action for Road Safety) to the Rio+20 youth movement.

  • I want my government to allocate funds for sustainable development at the local level.

  • I commit to changing my consumption habits for the long-run.

  • I want the Chinese government to achieve higher transparency in information flow, especially in national heavy industries. Also, I want the Chinese government to sign a binding agreement for 2020 carbon emissions and to take the lead in sustainable development implementation.

  • I commit to reduce [my use of] disposable bags, cups, and save more energy.

By Tara DePorte, Human Impacts Institute’s Founder and Executive Director

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