The concept of a pre – Rio+20 youth conference sounded great. And it was for the two days dedicated to Brazilian youth. There were hundreds of local youth eager to become involved with such an event and the media coverage only helped promote the event and share the positive effects.
The same cannot be said for the international days at the Youth Blast. This was intended to be a place where international youth could convene before the chaos of Rio+20 and mobilize in order to approach the conference with a sense of unity and knowledge on the upcoming negotiations and events. Unfortunately, the result was a largely empty conference center and lack luster participation. There was the expectation of 3,000 youth to show up for the international days of Youth Blast! but maybe 500 were actually present – something that was only more noticeable by the sections of extra seating that remained empty minus a few people needing a place to nap. How is it that the event, co-organized by the UNCSD Major Group of Children and Youth together with the Brazilian National Youth Secretary and in partnership with the Government of Brazil, the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Brazilian National Youth Council CONJUVE, failed to create a buzz and get the numbers that were advertised?
It certainly wasn’t for the lack of dedication by the planning committee or a lack of funds. Some have said the event’s lack of participation mirrors the current frame of mind for youth worldwide. That is to say that the youth have given up on the hope for a renewed future. As a youth who attended the Youth Blast and now am attending the Rio+20 conference, I reject the notion that there is a lack of passion on the part of the youth, especially for those whose did fly thousands of miles to attend the event. What I see as the most likely culprit is the resources it takes for a young person to travel to Brazil and then sustain themselves for an extra week in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Many youth have been paying their own way, through the help of families, grants, and credit to attend the UN Conference on Sustainable Development. Rio de Janeiro is only getting more expensive as more and more events draw in international business folk and tourists. It’s well known that the countless civil society organizations working for a sustainable future are lacking the funds typically allocated to the planet’s major polluters, so how many youth could they have truly thought would show?
Even with the lack of attendance, I would not call the Youth Blast a failure. Those who were fortunate enough to attend were able to meet, learn about various projects that are supporting a sustainable future, and prepare for the upcoming UNCSD. Essentially, they did just what the organizers were hoping for, but on a much smaller scale. Perhaps next time, part of the bloated budget for such events could be put towards making these events more accessible to everyone who does have the passion, but not the resources needed for a voice to be heard in the 21st century.
By: Brendan Schoenman, Environmental Leadership Intern