RIO DE JANEIRO (AlertNet) - As formal negotiations opened at the Rio+20 sustainable development summit on Wednesday, a 17-year-old from New Zealand urged world leaders and negotiators to think of her, for a moment, as “all children, your children, the world’s 3 billion children… half the world”.
In the face of climate change and other environmental, economic and social crises that threaten to make life much more difficult for coming generations, “I am here to fight for my future,” Brittany Trilford told the crowd.
“Are you here to save face? Or are you here to save us?” she asked world leaders, as they began debating a draft plan to boost the planet’s sustainability – a document widely described as inadequate and lacking in ambition.
With risks ranging from climate change and water scarcity fast shifting from future worries to present problems, the rights of young people and future generations are gaining prominence at the U.N.-led talks in Rio de Janeiro.
At least 30 countries have included youth members as part of their official negotiating delegations, and a plan to create a U.N. High Commissioner for Future Generations has been floated. Young people are leading many of the protests that are disrupting speeches and filling the conference’s hallways.
Many activists say they believe world officials will take action only when they understand that the debate is not just about the future of forests or oceans or biodiversity, but about the future of their own families.
“There is enough science that shows not only future generations, but our generation will suffer from the way we treat the Earth at the moment,” warned Felix Beck, 21, one of two youth members of the German negotiating team at Rio+20. “And it will be even worse for future generations.”
NEW CRIME OF ECOCIDE?
Louise Kulbicki, 24, a British environmental law graduate, is working at Rio to create a new crime of “ecocide” – the destruction of ecosystems – alongside crimes like genocide already recognised by the United Nations.
Young people “are passionate and see the urgency of acting, which is a really important thing to bring” to the meeting, she said.
She supports a proposal to create ombudsmen for future generations at various levels of national and local governments – as well as in the United Nations – to try to shift short-term political thinking and strategy towards a longer view.
“I think... the kind of industrial activity that is jeopardising our right to life, the right to life of future generations - even all life on earth - is immoral,” she said.
But making it a crime is what will count, she said.
“There needs to be a threshold in place on what companies can make profits from,” she said. “To make an ombudsman truly effective, you need to have concrete laws in place. It’s important it doesn’t turn into a symbolic thing.”
Hungary is one of three countries – including New Zealand and Israel – which have already appointed a representative for future generations. Since 2008, Sandor Fulop has been Hungary’s deputy parliamentary commissioner for future generations.
“Is it making a difference in Hungary? I would not say we can change the consumption patterns of the Hungarian population, or all of the arbitrary decisions of the administrative bodies in my country,” he admitted. But his office has already handled more than 200 complaints about environmental and sustainability issues, he said.
Looking at future generations “gives more impetus for us to act,” he said. “It leads to different, creative solutions.”
Antonio Oposa Junior, a Filipino environmental lawyer who initiated a legal case to protect the rights of future generations, said he agreed that putting a focus on children in the negotiations was the right step.
After all, “who among us want our children to drink dirty water? Who among us want our children to breathe dirty air?” he asked.