RIO DE JANEIRO (AlertNet) – “We are here to articulate and build our vision of a sustainable future,” Karuna Rana, 24, one of Rio+20’s youth speakers, said in addressing the gathering’s opening plenary.
But that wasn’t quite how youth saw the sustainable development summit turning out as it finished Friday.
“You have worked hard to close a deal,” they told world leaders in a statement during the final meeting of the gathering in Rio de Janeiro. But “if any of you think this document is the ambitious, action-oriented outcome you said you wanted, please stand up.”
“If you are unable to stand up, then you must be unwilling to move forward. So, we will move forward for you,” they promised.
This was the view of young people who had gathered, online and offline, for the summit, which focused increasingly heavily on the threats to future generations posed by climate change, growing resource scarcity, deforestation and other environmental, economic and social problems.
Many youth said they had strategically organised and prepared for the summit for years, through list-serves and online meetings.
“We are not just mere presences but effective stakeholders who were - and are - trying to influence our country delegations by consistently picking up issues, educating our representatives and building support around points which will enable us to get the ‘future we want,’” said Sebastien Duyck, 27, a French youth activist working at Rio+20.
But young activists and delegates at the summit said the meeting had largely failed to advance their aims.
NO FUTURE GENERATIONS REPRESENTATIVE
Many had been pushing for the creation of an ombudsperson or a “representative for future generations” at the UN level and at other levels throughout government to give a strong voice for young people and future generations in political decision making, which tends to have a short-term focus.
But that was left out of the summit’s political agreement.
“The outcome document is anyway pathetic, judging by its stated purpose. I mean, I read that the text contains "we will" or "we commit" only three times while "encourage" is a word that seems to have been used more than 148 times,” said Aashish Khullar, 25, of India.
During preparatory meetings to create the text for government leaders and representatives to approve during the actual summit, young people pushed for the inclusion of a variety of progressive positions, including support for “non-formal” as well as formal education for youth as part of a move to a “green economy.”
As a result, some countries changed their positions from “flexible” to “retain” with regard to that language in the text.
But the effort was wasted, said Marcus Gustafsson, 23, who was representing the YMCA at Rio+20.
“These consultations with us, the youth, were completely superficial as virtually all our suggestions were deleted from the outcome document leading up to the conclusion of the conference,” he said.
That opinion was seconded by Ralien Bekkers, 20, who with other Dutch youth had tried to persuade their country’s prime minister to attend the summit.
But a Twitter campaign, a birthday cake sent to him and a collection of money to pay for his ticket to Rio all came to nothing, Bekkers said.
“In the current system it is … difficult to include the real voice of the young generation,” Bekkers told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the summit. “Even though we have been actively committing ourselves to the Rio+20 process, the voice of the youth and our interests are not reflected in the outcome,” he said.
However, many young people are now looking beyond this summit.
“There is a depressing outcome …but the world will not become a better place if we bury ourselves in frustration,” Gustafsson said. “Considering the document's weakness, this only means we must start working with implementation directly and with even greater vigour.”
Nora Mahmoud , 26, at Rio+20 to work with the Earth Charter International, agreed.
“Rio+20 doesn’t mean the end. Actions will continue and we will just use this as a platform to become stronger,” she said.
Roli Mahajan is a blogger based in New Delhi, India.