Highlighting Youth Action leading up to Rio+20: NewYork+20

Read the NY+20 Youth Statement here!

With the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development only a month away, youth from around the world are engaging the process and holding events of their own to promote sustainable development. One such is the MyCity+20 series, which simulate the upcoming conference. The series began on April 14-15, 2012, when youth from across India came together and staged Mumbai+20. Then, on Friday April 27th, 2012, a group of youth from the New York City region hostedNY+20. The Human Impacts Institute‘s Youth Leadership Coordinator, Kate Offerdahl, was one of the events main organizers and opened the event as the Ford Foundationhosted the over 100 participants. Alongside the physical event ran an online component coordinated by Elischia Fludd, of EOTO World and Jean-Paul Brice Affana, of the AYICC, that allowed for over 200 virtual participants!


The MyCity project was originally developed at Sciences Po, a university in Paris, France by passionate students with a desire to more completely understand the process of United Nations climate negotiations. The initiative invites high school and university students to fully immerse themselves in the UNCSD negotiation process by creating their own simulation of the upcoming conference. There are few other ways to truly understand not only the production of such conferences, but also the work that it has/does/will take in order to create binding sustainability policy for future generations.


Participants were greeted on the top floor of the Ford Foundation by a student project on sustainability. Cecil Barnes, a current MA student at NYU, showcased a project that re-purposes unused buildings in the Financial District and turns the space into a sustainable community center, complete with rooftop garden.

Formally, the event began with a few speeches on sustainable development and the importance of youth engagement in global discussions. Ambassador Josephine Ojiambo of Kenya addressed the importance of uniting the global youth in preparation, not only for Rio, but for all future work that will have to be done in order to ensure the Future We Want. Emmanuel Martin was the morning’s youth voice. Representing Global Kids, he spoke to the importance of youth involvement as the momentum for sustainable development continues. Next spoke Langston James “Kimo” Goree IV, a board member of the Human Impacts Institute and the Director of Reporting Services for the International Institute for Sustainable Development. As the day’s intent was to explore the processes surrounding the upcoming UNCSD, he set the tone by providing the room with an update on current negotiations and what those who are working towards Rio are saying preparation for the conference.

Once the opening speeches were complete, it was time for the breakout sessions. Each had its own theme based on key topics being negotiated for the conference – Youth and Green Jobs, International Ombudsperson for Future Generations, Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs], and Global Governance. Over the next three hours, each group, headed by a youth facilitator and an expert on the topic, diligently discussed their topic, analyzed what the issues mean to them and their communities, and created a deliverable on the subject

Halfway through the day, the Ford Foundation presented the attendees with a great lunch; however, it was a performance by Project Hip Hop of Boston that people were applauding for. As a part of the Boston Rio+20 Project, put on by The Sounding Board, Project Hip-Hop created a performance titled Breathe. After lunch and the inspiring performance, the working groups reformed so the students could finalize their discussions and create a collective outcome for each of the topics. After all the work was finished, each group recapped their discussions and presented the audience with their deliverable. The presentations were concise and but direct, and their conclusions will be incorporated into a forthcoming outcome document for NY+20.

A few more speakers closed out the day. These included Chantal Line Carpentier, Major Groups Coordinator for the Division of Sustainable Development at UN-DESA, who spoke on the importance of youth involvement with the U.S. government and beyond, John Matuszak, Division Chief for Sustainable Development and Multilateral Affairs for the US Department of State, who updated the audience with an update of youth involvement at Rio+20, and Brice Lalonde, Executive Coordinator of Rio+20 UN CSD. who closed the day with a good-humored call to arms directed at every person who desires to see and enact future change.

There is still a lot of work to be done, before and after Rio, but if this day’s events are an indicator, there is no reason that we cannot succeed and create the future we want. New York+20 can definitely be marked down as a success, with many thanks to all of the organizers, donors, and the students and young people who are working towards making a better world for future generations.

More MyCity+20 events will be occurring between now and the conference in Rio, so make sure to stay tuned for what youth from all over the world have to say – they are the future dreamers and innovators and there’s no time like the present to give them the microphone.


A special thanks to all of the partners and youth involved in making this vision a reality.

Columbia University Coalition for Sustainable Development, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Science, The Human Impacts Institute, The Ford Foundation, MyCity+20, Peace Child International, EOTO World, UNICEF, Global Kids, UN DESA, IISD Reporting Services, UN Major Group for Children and Youth, The Jane Goodall Institute, Rio+20 Global Youth Music Contest, International Youth Council, The Sounding Board

By Brendan Schoenman, 2012 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Leadership Intern

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