The 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, widely known as Rio+20 in reminiscence of the 1992 Earth Summit, was hailed as the long-overdue opportunity to restore intergenerational justice globally. It was meant to commit current generations to finally live within planetary boundaries and to re-think how we use, waste, destroy and rebuild these planetary resources across generations.
To call the outcome a disappointment would be the understatement of the decade – George Monbiot went as far to call the back-paddling 53-page outcome document with 283 fluffy paragraphs “the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war” in his weekly column for the Guardian with the poignant title
For future generations and young people specifically, the outcome is nothing but a slap in the face. This is not the first United Nations conference announced to be an earth-shattering moment specifically for young people – just think back a few weeks to the Youth Blast which failed to ignite and turned out to be more of a youth breeze, or a few months to the Youth21 meeting in Nairobi, which turned out to be little else but various agencies jockeying for influence over the appointment of the Special Advisor for Youth.
None of this can conceal, or cushion, the pathetic confession of the final text of Rio+20—grandiloquently and impudently called “The Future We Want”—illustrating an embarrassingly non-committal lowest common denominator.
Would you disagree with the NGO Major Group completely rejecting the text? Because they did.
Would you condemn the youth activists abandoning the conference chanting “the future we want is not found here?” Because they did.
Would you argue with the Major Group for Children and Youth when they say “if these sheets of paper are our common future, then you have sold our fate and subsidised our common destruction?” Because they did.
Read through the paragraphs mentioning youth below, and you will likely realise:
You wouldn’t. You couldn’t. The UN has failed youth, again.
Youth is mentioned 15 times on the fluffy 53 pages of the outcome document of Rio+20:
- In paragraph 24 on page 5, as the Heads of State and Government “express deep concern about the continuing high levels of unemployment and underemployment, particularly among young people, and note the need for sustainable development strategies to proactively address youth employment at all levels.”
- In paragraph 31 on page 6, as the Heads of State and Government “emphasize that sustainable development must be inclusive and people-centred, benefiting and involving all people, including youth and children.”
- In paragraph 42 on page 7, as the Heads of State and Government underscore that “sustainable development requires the meaningful involvement and active participation of regional, national and subnational legislatures and judiciaries, and all major groups” including children and youth.
- In paragraph 50 on pages 9 and 10, as the Heads of State and Government “stress the importance of the active participation of young people in decision-making processes.”
- In paragraph 58 (k) on page 10, as the Heads of State and Government “affirm that green economy policies in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication should […] enhance the welfare of women, children, youth, persons with disabilities, smallholder and subsistence farmers, fisherfolk and those working in small and medium-sized enterprises.”
- In paragraph 62 on page 11, as the Heads of State and Government “encourage each country to consider the implementation of green economy policies in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, in a manner that endeavours to drive sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth and job creation, particularly for women, youth and the poor.”
- In paragraph 135 on page 26, as the Heads of State and Government “commit to promote sustainable development policies that support inclusive housing and social services; a safe and healthy living environment for all, particularly children, youth, women and the elderly and disabled.”
- In paragraph 146 on page 28, as the Heads of State and Government “commit to reduce maternal and child mortality and to improve the health of women, men, youth and children.”
- In paragraph 148 on page 28, as the Heads of State and Government express concern about “labour market conditions and widespread deficits of available decent work opportunities, especially for young women and men.”
- In paragraph 152 on page 29, as the Heads of State and Government recognize that young people should be helped “to gain access to needed skills and employment opportunities, including in new and emerging sectors.”
- In paragraph 154 on page 29, as the Heads of State and Government “encourage the private sector to contribute to decent work for all and job creation for both women and men, and particularly for young people.”
- In paragraph 155 on page 29, as the Heads of State and Government “encourage the sharing of experiences and best practices on ways to address the high levels of unemployment and underemployment, in particular among young people.”
- In paragraph 229 on page 43, as the Heads of State and Government “reaffirm that full access to quality education at all levels is an essential condition for achieving […] the full participation of both women and men, in particular young people.”
- In paragraph 230 on page 43, as the Heads of State and Government “recognize that the younger generations are the custodians of the future.”
- In paragraph 231 on page 44, as the Heads of State and Government “encourage Member States to promote sustainable development awareness among youth.”
Hardly the future we want.