The official kick-off of the final round of Rio+20 negotiations is still a couple of days ahead and the high-level UN Conference on Sustainable Development itself wont start before another 10 days. Nevertheless, “Rio+20″ has already started here in Brazil, with many events and conferences already ongoing to pave the way towards what might be the most important conference for our planet during this decade.
From the 20th to the 22nd June, more than a hundred heads of governments will gather in the city for a once-in-a-decade event during which the presidents/prime ministers of most countries will consider how to foster development worldwide while improving the health of our planet. But these three days are only the tip of the iceberg, with dozens of parallel events taking place this month in Rio, engaging all possible stakeholders: from the business community to local governments or young people. These events serve a range of purposes. First, they offer extremely valuable opportunities to share best practices and success stories of local initiatives. They also provide a great opportunity to build up new networks combining added value and different sets of skills of a new partner from across the planet. And for those aiming at influencing more specifically the outcome of the UN process, these events offer one last chance to strategize and coordinate plans for the two intensive upcoming weeks.
Most of our team of bloggers joined the rest of the youth movement over the past couple of days at the Youth Blast, the youth conference ongoing here in Rio. Holding such conferences is now a solidly-established tradition in the international youth movements working around the UN environmental processes. Since 2005, the “Conferences Of Youth” have become perhaps the most empowering gathering of the international youth climate movement, preceding each annual UNFCCC conference.
Walking around the Youth Blast is indeed a unique experience, with inspired youth painting banners, while high-level UN officials share their expectations and accept to be challenged by uncompromising activists in relation to the activities of the bodies under their supervision. Today again, dozens of workshops ran in parallel. Ahead of next week’s campaign to end fossil fuel subsidies, various NGOs working on this issue exchanged their plans and experience to scale up campaigning in the coming weeks. While many of the proposals discussed in Rio are complex and abstract, the phasing out of these harmful subsidies really comes across as one of most common-sense solution, as they involve spending public funding to support industries.
While discussions on banning these negative incentives were in full swing, another group engaged in discussions with Achim Steiner, UNEP’s Executive Director. Achim belongs to those UN top-officials with whom young people could spend hours talking with and who seems sincerely eager to listen and learn from us. The upgrading of the UNEP to a more proactive institution is currently at the core of the negotiations and has the broad support of virtually all segments of civil society. As this proposal still faces strong resistance by some countries, Achim defended the importance of a strengthened institution to coordinate environmental policy across the UN. Addressing the concerns of some countries such as India claiming that this reform would undermine their possibility to develop and eradicate poverty, Achim proposed that those countries either provide proofs in Rio of this conflict between environmental and social priorities or else “put up and shut up”.
These two discussions give a good taste of the broad range of topics covered at the youth blast, addressing both main themes of Rio+20 (green economy and environmental governance). Perhaps even more importantly than the range of topics covered, the value of the Youth Blast mainly comes from the rich diversity of its participants, representing not just all regions of the planet, but also all possible approaches to environmentalism and sustainability.
The alternation of sun and rain over the SulAmerica conference centre of Rio today was perhaps the best analogy to illustrate this rainbow-like movement bringing together so different activists sharing all one grand vision.
Don’t hesitate to take a couple of minutes to vision this great video by our friends from YouthPolicy.org:
About the authorSébastien Duyck
Passionate environmental advocate, PhD student (Human Rights and Environmental Governance). Following particularly UNFCCC, UNEP and Rio+20 processes