Global Youth Forum on Mountain Issues and Sustainable Actions Sends Appeal to Rio+20 Delegates

15 June 2012 
Mountain Pavilion (Pavilion I), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Over 50 youth representing all regions of the globe participated in the Global Youth Forum on Mountain Issues and Sustainable Actions jointly held by ICIMOD, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and the Mountain Partnership at the Mountain Pavilion on 15 June 2012. The Global Youth Forum commenced a busy week of mountain-related events to be held at the Mountain Pavilion – a global initiative at Rio+20 led by the government of Peru bringing together mountain countries from around the world. The Youth Forum was kicked off by the presentation of a video showing why mountains matter, followed by a series of presentations on the importance of involving and mainstreaming youth in the negotiation process on ‘The Future We Want’. 

The Asia Pacific Youth Task Force on Rio+20 was first introduced by Tek Jung Mahat (ICIMOD), who is now its coordinator. Since its creation in 2009, it has grown to host some of the largest youth meetings on climate change and youth actions in the Asia Pacific region. The Youth Forum at Rio+20 was created as a space where the views of youth representing Africa, Central America, North America, South America and the Middle East could be heard. At the end of the meeting, the Mountain Youth’s Appeal to Rio+20 was prepared to be handed over to negotiators involved in the upcoming negotiating round.

Many participants noted that youth engagement in Rio+20 negotiations is crucial. Ivana Savic from the UN Conference on Sustainable Development presented her work in advancing youth participation in sustainable development issues. “Young people need to be involved as they care about the environment”, she said. “Twenty years from now, young people will ensure that changes are made.” However, ensuring their participation requires energy, time, knowledge, and resources, and “investment is needed so the youth can have an active role in sustainable development”.

Youth will face the consequences of the decisions made by today’s leaders. Which is why, as Sameera Zaib from Pakistan stressed, “governments need to involve youth and include them in policy negotiations”. As mountain youth from different regions face similar challenges, they need to work together to find solutions.

Speaking for Central America, Nora Mahmoud reported on her experience living in Costa Rica, a country known for its vast biodiversity and mountainous regions. With such rich biodiversity and high levels of tourism, “Costa Rica provides a unique example to prompt the youth to speak up as global citizens – they need to embrace the opportunity to have a voice in the Rio+20 process”, she said, stressing the importance of face-to-face workshops to help youth increase awareness and build communities. 

Juan Carlos Soriano reflected on his childhood in Lima, Peru, where he grew up listening to stories about the beauty of the Peruvian highlands, with their trees and orchards. But when Juan Carlos finally went there with his father, all they found were rocks and barren land. “In 25 years, the landscape had changed. I did not immediately make the connection,” he said. “It wasn’t until later, when I studied several issues around climate change that I saw the light.” As a UNCSD Major Group on Children and Youth delegate, Juan Carlos worked on a campaign to try to get governments to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. “One trillion dollars is going to oil companies that extract natural gas, which when used results in pollution and causes many other problems. If they diverted this sum to sustainable development,” he said, “just think of how much could be done!” 

The youngest participant was TUNZA Ambassador Kehkashan Basu from Dubai. “Yesterday I attended a debate in a favela”, she said, “and it was extremely inspiring to see how much children of the slums were interested in sustainable development”. She spoke to them about how they could make a difference. “Spreading awareness on children and youth is key for the future we want,” she added. “This way their children will not have the same problems we are facing now.”

Jaya Jung Mahat, UN Youth Mobilizer for the UNDP Sustainable Development Dialogues, collected voices from mountain youth, especially from Asian countries, on topics including poverty reduction, energy, water, forests, and oceans. The main objective of the UNDP Sustainable Development Dialogues was to make the process as inclusive as possible and incorporate issues on mountains and youth.

“There is a strong link between mountains and agriculture in Africa”, said Jean Paul Brice Affana, who works with the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC). Jean Paul explained how important mountains in Africa are for farmers. “If the ice caps on top of Kilimanjaro melted completely”, he explained, “the farmers who live there and their fields would have no water in the dry season”. Shreejana from Nepal reiterated the global importance of mountains. “Mountains are not just about the highlands”, she said, “but also about the lowlands”.

Participants discussed and approved a draft ‘Mountain Youth’s Appeal to Rio+20 Delegates’ to be shared with delegates involved in UNCSD negotiations. It emphasizes recognition of the importance of mountain goods and services; compensation for mountain communities for their environmental stewardship; and equitable sharing of benefits. Specifically for youth, the document calls for development and implementation of mechanisms offering educational opportunities; the development of Youth Councils at global and regional levels; promotion of a youth knowledge network and parliament to improve youth engagement in decision making processes; and development of provisions for a Green Youth Fund to promote environmental entrepreneurship.

In his concluding remarks, Olman Serrano, Coordinator of the Mountain Partnership Secretariat, thanked the participants for their engagement. “Unlike my generation”, he observed, “you have powerful communication tools such as social media – not only to get your message across but also to share it with a larger, global youth community”. Youth are the future, Mr Serrano concluded, “hence your involvement is key for the future we want”. 

Daniel Maselli from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) said it was important to invest in youth and encouraged them to not to abandon their direction. “Only thus will you achieve the future you want”, he said.

Finally, ICIMOD Deputy Director General Madhav Karki noted how economic development has moved from the North to the South, giving the youth from the South much to contribute. “Youth have a lot of hope for the future we all want, but there are challenges”, he stressed. “Youth as future leaders need to take the opportunities and take on the responsibilities.”