Yesterday, Rio+20 – the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development – officially opened with 130 world leaders arriving from around the world.
After an 8 month process, including 4 weeks of formal negotiations, numerous draft texts, and a 20-year break since the famous Earth Summit of 1992, the pressure is on Heads of State, Governments and Ministers to agree and sign up to a new deal on sustainable development.
Over three days, each of the 208 countries present is given five minutes to speak to the conference and two minutes is given to each of the 9 ‘Major Groups,’ representing Children & Youth, Women, NGOs, Workers & Trade Unions, Farmers, Business & Industry, Indigenous people, Local Authorities and the Scientific & Technological community.
When the Major Group for Children & Youth spoke at opening plenary of Rio+20, they did so on behalf of 3 billion young people around the world and in two minutes needed to express the disappointment and resentment harbored at so little action being taken by our leaders in the current draft agreement.
In short, they needed to reject the current text.
Despite near universal acceptance amongst youth at Rio+20 that the current text does not give the commitments needed for sustainable development, internal wrangling within the Major Group for Children & Youth led to a statement (and subsequent statements) that don’t reflect the true level of emotions and demands of its members.
This became even more prevalent today as young people, NGOs and civil society staged a sit-in protest inside the conference centre against the failure of negotiations to produce an ambitious and meaningful agreement. This culminated in over 200 people handing in their official UN badges and abandoning the process before heading to the People’s Summit on the other side of Rio. All the photos are available here.
The Major Group for Children & Youth has power beyond nations in that they are able to hold a mirror up to the agreements without fear of ‘losing an election or a few points of the stock market.’ Failure to do so, however, leaves youth on the fringes of civil society and out of touch with the billions of young people spoken for.
Do young people have the fire to stand up to world leaders? They have a chance to do so in tomorrow’s closing ceremony. Whether they will use the opportunity remains to be seen.