Youth invisible in Rio+20 vision

By Stephen Leahy, IPScross-posted from TerraViva

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 17 Youth and future generations do not deserve a voice in their own future, the Brazilian government appears to have arbitrarily decided here at the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, where the theme is “The Future We Want”.

Intense lobbying is underway, including impromptu protests by youth in the hallways of the official RioCentro conference site. Photo: Stephen Leahy/IPS

Representatives of children and youth, as well as the European Union and other countries, want to see the summit conclude with an agreement to create a High-Level Representative for Sustainable Development and Future Generations.

However, Brazil, under its formal leadership of the summit, has deleted all references to this from the “outcome document” currently under negotiation.

It is a bit surprising considering 62 percent of Brazil’s 185 million people are under 29 years of age.

The proposed representative for future generations would act to balance the short-term nature of government electoral cycles by advocating for the interests and needs of future generations, says youth representative Alice Vincent of the World Future Council Foundation in London, UK.

“I strongly believe that a Rio+20 outcome that does not include the creation of such an advocate for the needs of future generations wouldn’t be worthy of the title The Future We Want,” Vincent told TerraViva.

Over the past weeks there has been little progress on agreement of the content for the final 20-page “outcome document” intended to serve as the world’s roadmap to sustainable development. It will include details for greening of the global economy and possibly include sustainable development goals and a timetable for reaching them.

Countries were essentially deadlocked over the contents, so the Brazilian government revised the document and presented it to countries this morning saying it is an attempt to “make all delegates a bit happy, and a bit unhappy”.

Leaders from over 100 countries arrive shortly to negotiate the final outcome document that will be released when the summit ends Jun. 22.

“The removal of this text effectively relegates youth and future generations to the sidelines to watch – not participate – in deciding on our future,” said Rhoda Robinson, a youth activist from Nigeria.

“This may not look like it is something of concern to a young person in Africa, but we cannot continue to have no representation, no say and no access to decisions that affect us,” Robinson said in statement.

The high-level representative would work in close cooperation with civil society to represent their concerns and to further their participation at the United Nations. This would ensure a more integrated approach to sustainable development – one of the key objectives of the Rio+20 Conference – and embed long-term thinking into our political processes.

The idea of a High-Level Representative for Future Generations has hardly been discussed at all in recent days, and now it has been removed from the draft text. The Brazilian government seems to be in a great hurry to get something everyone can easily agree on and they don’t really care what is in the final document, said Vincent.

“It is pretty hard to defend the removal,” he said. “It would have been a huge, positive outcome from Rio+20.”

Intense lobbying is underway, including impromptu protests by youth in the hallways of the official RioCentro conference site, with hope of getting support to push Brazil to reverse its decision.

“Young people are demanding that this language be reinserted into the negotiating text and that a High-Level Representative for Sustainable Development and Future Generations be an enduring accomplishment of the Rio+20 Conference,” said Kate Offerdahl, a student at Columbia University in New York.

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