We are ready to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) Rio+20 starting from June 20-22, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the same city that hosted the largest ever environmental conference – the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), June 3-14, 1992. This conference is expected to review progresses made in the environmental sector in the last two decades, identify development gaps, note new challenges that have emerged over the past two decades, and develop a way forward for the next few decades. Several governments, UN agencies, and civil society groups are contributing in Rio+20 processes, making it the most ambitious environmental event in history.
Constant degradation of environments in South Asia, Central Asia, and
Eastern Europe raises many questions about the role of UN agencies that spent billions of US dollars through non-government organizations (NGOs) and in some cases directly. Poverty is increasing, literacy rates are almost the same as it was 20 years ago, more and more forests are vanishing, and overall climate changes and global warming is increasing.
Where has this huge amount of money been invested? What are the results? Where are the third-party audit reports? There are many questions, but to whom may they be asked, and who will ask such questions? Mostly every NGO is directly or indirectly financed by UN bodies, and how can they ask such nasty questions to those who are giving money for salaries? Instead of involving such critical questions, I would seek your attention for one important point that can help us and our future, and that is involvement of youth in the whole process of environmental wellbeing.
Often ignored or avoided, youth should be involved as much as possible, because youth is energetic, less bureaucratic, and more results-oriented. During my recent meetings with youth of mountain areas of Central Asia and South Asia, the following demands came from youth, and I am sharing the same with you, because you may put them ahead through your networking and contacts. Following are demands of the youth:
1. Watershed management and sustainable mountain development should be urgently addressed, because these have an impact on millions of people who depend on the mountains for their water.
2. As the development of infrastructure can degrade mountain environments and increase migration to urban areas, mountain development should aim to provide basic services and employment opportunities (green jobs) for local communities.
3. There should be an emphasis on providing opportunities for young people in mountain areas, because without these people, the indigenous communities will rapidly die out.
4. Capacity-building initiatives should address gender, caste, and other social inclusion issues in order to build a sustainable future for mountain communities.
5. Responsible eco-tourism should be promoted and supported as one of the means of sustaining mountain communities and environments.
6. Youth should be responsible towards environment conservation, implementing eco-ideas and eco-friendly techniques.
7. Young people are generally better educated about the threats to our environment than older generations, and are, therefore, likely to be effective agents of change.
8. Governments should engage directly with concerned youth groups on environmental issues, involving them in policy discussions and being responsible to them for policy implementation, because in the longer term, it is the young who will live with the consequences of those policies.
9. The huge problem of labor migration and brain drain of youth needs to be addressed.
10. Selected young people should be trained in advocacy and communication skills so that they will be able to mobilize other people to take appropriate action to limit environmental degradation.
11. Governments should make use of the energy and commitment of concerned youth groups to spread messages about effective environmental management to the wider population.
12. Youth can play an effective role to share the outcomes of Rio+20 among the local people from the grass-roots to national level.
13. There must be a check and balance on UN bodies where these are spending money, and how much share of grants are being used in establishment charges of these agencies and NGOs, and how much real money is being spent on developmental sector.
14. Third-party audits should be a must for NGOs that are receiving grants in mountains areas, so people must know where money is being spent that comes to their name.