Environment and Climate Change

Rio +20

From global stage to local engagement

© UNICEF/Brazil - Caroline Howe 2012
BRAZIL: Young people identify potential improvements on community resource maps.

UNICEF’s approach to young people’s engagement related to Rio+20

During the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, called Rio+20, one thing was certain: hundreds of young people around the world engaged with the key issues of the conference on the level that matters most in their daily lives – in their local communities.  “Moving from global stage to local engagement” was the message behind UNICEF’s deliberate move away from one-off approaches to participation.  In the lead-up to Rio+20, UNICEF has sought to integrate sustainable development into ongoing programmes that engage young people in local action – prior to and long after global stages have been dismantled.

Andavadoaka is a southern coastal community in Madagascar where UNICEF and partner Blue Ventures run environmental education and community engagement exercises to protect the marine natural resources critical for their health and security. In April and May in Madagascar, young people conducted community natural resource mapping exercises, identifying how water, waste and energy are being used and identifying solutions that they could implement in their communities.

In May, UNICEF Mozambique conducted a training program of 30 young radio and TV producers that reach out to hundreds of young people through local stations. The training built capacity and knowledge around environmental issues, helped young people plan environmental activities in their schools and communities and discussed how best to communicate the key messages of sustainable development and Rio+20 through their radio and TV networks.

Through civil society networks that have spent the past two years engaging young people around this issue, UNICEF has shared tools to enable young people to conduct inclusive community assessments and community natural resource mapping on their own, in order to inform local decision-making and encourage youth action on these themes. Youth groups have used these tools to translate the often complex themes of sustainable development to directly relevant examples in their communities.

This process has been aligned with the broader UN “Future We Want” campaign for Rio+20, creating child- and youth-led community active consultations, working with young people to identify and discuss the key elements of the future they – as future leaders and current critical stakeholders – want for their communities and how they plan to get there. UNICEF’s Adolescent Development & Participation unit’s toolkit for these “Future We Want” consultations is available online at futurewewant.wordpress.com and is available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

While these outcomes were showcased at Rio+20, their impact will go far beyond one event. The process of young peoples’ input into sustainable development decision making is an ongoing process at all levels, and will continue through UNICEF offices and our civil society partners. Most importantly, by engaging young people all over the world to engage with their local communities, their actions can and will continue as their projects start to change their communities and begin to build the “Future We Want” without waiting for global leaders to decide on that future for them.

In this way, UNICEF has been able to meaningfully engage global young people with the themes of a global event without requiring their travel to a given location and without relying on a single youth representative to speak on their behalf on a global stage. This process does not begin or end at Rio+20, though. Since 2009, UNICEF has been working with young people all over the world to address issues of climate change adaptation and broader sustainability themes through the Climate Ambassador Programme, implemented in more than 20 countries.

The Climate Ambassador Programme uses climate change as an overarching theme around which to engage children and young people in the organization’s core areas of work, from WASH to Health. From the work of the Belize office to incentivize community clean-ups through the Freshwater Cup football competition to the work of the South Africa office to empower school children to start initiatives at their school around waste, water or community gardens, UNICEF and the young people it works with have shown the power of young people to build the sustainable Future We Want.

In 1992, at the first Earth Summit, a twelve-year-old Canadian child, Severn Suzuki, gave a five minute speech that “silenced the world.” Her wisdom and eloquence was remembered long after many of the other outcomes of the first Rio conference. In 2012, the world has changed. We no longer need the voice of one child to speak to leaders. Instead, UNICEF has trained young people to each use their own voices, not to silence the world, but to change their communities. It is this impact that communities will remember, this change they will see, as young people move on from Rio to build the Future We Want.




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