By Anna Odell
Even after spending a term studying sustainable development, the United Nations process, and the Rio+20 conference in depth, when people asked me what exactly I was doing in New York at the informal-informals, I responded with the truth: I had no idea. I could say that I was going to the United Nations negotiations and that I was going to be working with youth from across the world, but when it got down to the nitty-gritty details, I was still a little lost. Although even though I didn’t entirely know how I would be spending my days, I never doubted that my presence at these meetings would mean something. Even before arriving I didn’t place a huge amount of faith in the formal negotiating space, but I had a feeling that I couldn’t quite put words on; something important was going to happen and I was going to be a part of it. It was not until I arrived to the UN headquarters this morning in New York City’s upper east side that I realized just how bureaucratic and complex this system is.
After the the morning session we met up with the Major Group of Children and Youth, and discussed the youth’s official role in the informal-informals: nonexistant. We learned that civil society and major groups are not permitted to make interventions during these meetings. With no opportunities for intervention and no actions, we are essentially sitting here as they negotiate. MGCY will have the opportunity for an intervention during the intersessionals next week, however there is no official opportunity for youth to express opinions or make suggestions during this week of negotiations. As I sat in the chair for the Youth in Children with a microphone in front of me, I realized how many chances my voice would not be heard, and even if it was, would it be considered? Is my voice louder shouting from outside the building than speaking into a microphone inside this room?
After lunch, the tides began to shift. Julian, working his mingling magic, landed us an interview with a French filmmaker Before I knew it, I was being tapped on the shoulder and informed that we were going to speak with Mr. Brice Lalonde, one of the two coordinators of the Rio+20 conference. Mariana, Julian, Bogdan and I huddled for a minute to collect our wits, and then found ourselves being hurried out to have a discussion on our thoughts of the negotiations, the conference, and the role of youth in the decision making process. ‘Finally!’ I thought, ‘a chance for us to share our views and get our opinions out there!’ The chance to talk to Mr. Lalonde was an incredible opportunity, and I truly appreciate being able to have a conversation about our thoughts and hear his views. We discussed the necessity of youth involvement in the decision making process, and he agreed that youth must have a role in the crafting of our future. However, he somewhat slyly spoke of our responsibility to make a movement outside of the United Nations system. Mentioning social media, letter writing, and putting pressure on individual nations, he spoke of the political will of nations stemming from the youth movement. I couldn’t help but feeling that he is operating within a system that does not fully acknowledge us. We are sitting here as representatives negotiate away our future, and we are told that it is our “responsibility” to put pressure on the heads of state so that they do their job.
One thing Mr. Lalonde said resonated deeply: “you are more powerful than you know.” I think he’s right. We are far more powerful than we realize, however still I consider our power to be greater than acknowledged by the United Nations. We will continue this movement, seeking environmental justice and a sustainable future, however we must be met with an opportunity to be seriously involved in the negotiating process and the willingness to work together. We will continue to put pressure on our heads of state and international governance, but I also call on the United Nations to meet us with the political will to move past the inaction make and the important, difficult, and forward thinking decisions that will stop the destruction of our future.