The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development 2012 is approaching, being held next June 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro. This event is also known as Rio+20 as it marks the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit held in Rio back in 1992. It has also been more recently tied to the slogan “The future we want”, being clearly our future at stake in social, environmental, and economic terms.
The conference itself is part of a longer process of months of work, bringing together actors from different institutional spheres globally to shape a request of serious commitments which are instrumental to sustainable development. This process may seem far from us, young people, but it is actually not. Why shall we care about it? Why do we care?
First of all, our interests and those of our children are at stake. Second, more than half of the world’s population is under 30 nowadays. Third, not only we are many but we are also increasingly interconnected, and this makes our actions incredibly powerful and impactful. Think of the wealth of friends we have from all over the continent and beyond. Think of the power of our interconnection and storytelling. It is also by telling our interconnected stories that we can drive changes. One can think of many examples in different fields and for very different purposes: AEGEE and the Erasmus programme, the recent social-media-powered movements such as 15M, World Cleanup – Let’s do it world and so forth.
Fourth, we embody lifestyles in terms of behaviours, consumption choices, and our role of users, which we can make more sustainable ourselves. These actions are also fuelling our social life and economy, which we can contribute to make greener to a bigger extent than we believe. For example, in the UK half to two thirds of all carbon emissions are linked to individual behaviours (e.g. how we travel, heat buildings, what we buy and how we use it, etc.).
Correctly, many argue education should play a big role as regards the shaping of sustainable lifestyles. If young generations are educated by adult ones, there is a need for changing the very same mindset of the latter generations that are ‘transmitting’ the current education, which is embedded in values and beliefs which need to be adapted, to evolve. Yet does this imply a rupture among youth and aging generations or an increasing connection?
We are at a turning point in which it is not only necessary to green our societies and economies, but also to address the disconnect between generations in order to produce new and greener ideas, attitudes, habits and a sense of responsibility and accountability linked to our daily actions. Today’s youth can and shall lead this shift by collaborating with previous generations, and shape a cultural change to be transmitted to the future generations.
Youth organizations are taking part to the international debate on sustainable development and climate change mitigation. Many of them, AEGEE included, are accredited by the UN and contribute by giving inputs on policies and actions the governments and other stakeholders should commit to and be carriers of (see AEGEE’s input to the Rio+20 compilation document, and all other submissions at http://www.uncsd2012.org). The channel is there for our voice to be heard. And this channel is growing stronger and wider. On January 25th the UN Secretary General announced that working with and for youth is one of the five priorities of his next five-year action agenda at the UN. He will appoint a Special Representative for Youth and start a Youth Volunteering programme. Sustainable development is also within the list of priorities, at the first position. Therefore, let’s speak up. And let’s back our words with actions. We may still be marginal in the decision-making networks, yet increasingly less so. We are there to take part to dialogues, debates, decisions-making and actions. And there are plenty of people for whom youth matters. Because we are “the largest generation of young people the world has ever known” (UN S-G). Because we care about our future.
By Andrea Carafa, Liaison Officer towards the United Nations