Top 5 reasons young people should care about the Rio + 20 Earth Summit

In June of 2012, heads of state, business leaders, and civil society will converge in Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (also known as the Earth Summit, or Rio + 20). This meeting will mark the twentieth anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit, which galvanized a generation of environmental activists. This meeting was the birthplace of the UNFCCC, and many partnerships were forged and promises made. Rio + 20 will be an occasion to reflect of the accomplishments and failures of the environmental movement in the past two decades, and to forge ahead with innovative solutions and partnerships for the next twenty years. Young people, especially, have a large stake in the outcome of this meeting. After all, it is us who will have to live with the results. However, Rio + 20 hardly seems to register for many young people. I’ve spent the semester exploring ways to engage youth in Rio + 20, and I have had the opportunity to learn from leaders in the field. Here is a list of the top five reasons that young people should care about Rio + 20:

1. The economy and green jobs. Unemployment and underemployment are major concerns for youth around the world. The global economic downturn has hit youth disproportionately hard compared to their presence in the labor market. However, growth in the Green Economy has the potential to benefit youth, simultaneously providing career opportunities and the environmental benefits of a more sustainable economy.

2. It’s an election year. It is crucial that Rio + 20 be a high level meeting, with heads of state in attendance. Youth can Pressure Obama to attend. He needed your support in the 2008 election, and he needs it now. Because this is an election year, young people have to opportunity to influence policy. Both the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements are fueled in part by lack of economic opportunities for youth. Young people can ride this wave of youth activism and assert their influence by demanding that world leaders commit to concrete actions for sustainable development at Rio + 20.

3. It’s time we demand accountability. Diplomats have been making pledges to act on environmental problems for as long as we’ve been alive. Yet today, we’re facing a potentially disastrous environmental future. One of the main themes of the Earth Summit will be improving international governance on environmental issues. One idea on the table, proposed by NRDC, is an international registry of environmental commitments and pledges. This would be a way of tracking progress, forging partnerships, and holding leaders accountable for their promises.

4. Rio + Twenty-somethings. Just as the first Earth Summit was a pivotal moment in the lives and careers of an earlier generation of environmentalists, this is our moment. Rio + 20 is an opportunity to make our voices heard. And people are listening. From my research and from attending the Rio + 20 intersessional meetings, I saw that the world is looking to our generation for innovation and action. This is an international environmental conference for people in their twenties.

5. Future We Want. We will be living with the decisions made at Rio, successes and failures of the environmental movement for the rest of our lives. Now is the time to assert our influence. With failures and moderate successes at international environmental conferences in the past few years, all eyes are on Rio, looking for a sign that the process is productive and worthwhile. The Earth Summit is an opportunity to prove that international environmental action is possible, and that commitments will bring action. #FutureWeWant is the official hash-tag for Rio + 20. Tweet, post, and talk to your community about the results you want from Rio + 20.