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International Year of Youth 2010/11 – Mainstreaming youth in environmental processes 

The years 2010/11 were important in the history of youth engagement in the development process. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first International Youth Year (IYY) in 1985 on the theme ‘Participation, Development and Peace’, 2010/11 was celebrated worldwide as ‘International Year of Youth: Dialogue and Mutual Understanding’.

One in five people – over 1.2 billion – are aged between 15 and 24, according to a report by the Population Reference Bureau in 2009. The proportion of the population between 15 and 24 in least developed countries (LDCs) is higher than in more developed countries (MDCs). In 2005, young people represented 13.7 per cent of the population of MDCs (166 million), but the vast majority of the world’s youth (1.1 billion) are in LDCs.

Things have changed significantly in the last two and a half decades, mainly since the Brundtland Report: ‘Our Common Future’. As well as population growth, new environmental challenges – and opportunities – have emerged. The role of youth in ensuring that our future is sustainable has become imperative.

Several new problems and challenges that were not debated much before the Rio Summit in 1992, such as climate change, have surfaced and are threatening our planet’s sustainability. The global community must make difficult choices to protect the Earth’s resources. Global warming is on the top of the list of new challenges with the 11 hottest years in modern history occurring in just the last 13 years. Forest degradation and loss of biodiversity are other important concerns. The availability of water and its unequal distribution is a serious concern. The productivity of the agricultural system has significantly dropped in many parts of the world, mainly due to extreme erosion of topsoil, limited irrigation facilities, and increasing attacks by pests and insects. Natural disasters like the recent earthquake and Tsunami in Japan, the Pakistan floods in 2010, and the Indian Ocean tsunami, large-scale forest fires, and severe loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems have all made the Earth a very unsafe place to live. Depletion of the Earth’s vital resources, the rising cost of basic goods and services for human survival, and changing weather patterns are other concerns. These are compounded by social disparities and widening economic gaps, a rapidly growing population, increasing demand for energy, and a shrinking natural resource base.

In this context, IYY is as a good reminder to involve the youth, develop their capacity, and drive the whole process in a safer direction. From an environmental perspective it is high time, as preparations are underway for the Rio +20 conference in June 2012. We need to develop some blueprints for our future at this landmark event. Rio +20 should be used to figure out new and wiser ways to put the world community boldly back on the sustainability track. This is only possible if we consult all of the stakeholders and critically and collectively review our past to shape the future. Let’s make sure youth do not miss out when we are making these decisions about their future on Earth!

- Tek Jung Mahat <>