by David Rickless, Coalition of Alabama Students for the Environment
In a few weeks, global leaders will meet for Rio+20, the UN sustainable development summit. These international meetings are usually long on talk and short on action, so many serious green advocates have learned to be skeptical.
At the same time, global conferences obviously offer a chance to make progress on a much bigger scale than national politics can. If we're serious about sustainability, we have to push our leaders to sit down and make a deal--an intelligent, equitable one.
That's why youth around the world are taking matters into their own hands, raising their voices in favor of concrete action in Rio.
A few months ago, a group of students in Paris launched a youth initiative aimed at organizing a simulation of Rio+20, called Paris+20. They organized conferences every week with experts from different fields to educate the “delegations” about sustainable development issues. The idea spread rapidly and students from all over the world started organizing their own events.
Since then, the so-called MyCity+20 movement has gathered momentum. In Late April, the NewYork+20 was held, bringing together more than 300 committed young people (in person and online) at the Ford Foundation in New York City.
The "delegates" produced a two-page document highlighting their priorities for Rio+20. And they got some attention. The executive coordinator of the actual summit promised to share the youth agreement with EU delegations and added that "the youth's job only starts at Rio, and will continue for the next two or three decades." Stateside, MyCity+20 organizers were invited to the White House for the launch of the Youth Sustainability Challenge.
A key point here is that the students involved in MyCity+20 went beyond protest signs and polar bear costumes. Colorful protests are important--they attract attention from the public and the media. But UN types deal in cold, dry policy, and a group that brings a specific proposal is going to stand out.
A solid platform gives activists something tangible to discuss and bureaucrats something they can relate to. As a result, the activists are taken more seriously. That might be what's happening here, and it's definitely a good thing.
If more young people continue to stand up for our future and make clear demands for better policy, maybe we can succeed where the big green groups are struggling. Maybe we will finally spur the world's political leaders into action.
You can learn more about MyCity+20 here.