Youth Environment and Education Forums:
Recommendations for the Rio+20 Earth Summit
In October 2011, young people, educators, and environmentalists gathered in London, Paris, Milan, Amsterdam and Oslo for a series of environmental forums organized by Tread Lightly. The purpose of these forums was to formulate recommendations for the Rio+20 Earth Summit agenda. The outcomes of each forum were beneficial in giving us an idea of the principal environmental concerns that the youth have, and where would they like to see more work being done. All the participants actively engaged in the conversation and produced policy recommendations with regard to their own country and the European community. Participants formulated recommendations related to the following issues: environmental education; waste; food; water; energy; and transportation management.
When we focused on the issue of waste management, we realized that European youth believe that although there has been a lot of progress on issues like sorting and recycling waste, although there is still much to be done with regards to the infrastructure for the collection of waste at the municipal levels around the continent.
As part of the recommendations, youth suggested increasing the availability of sorting and collection centers in each city. At the national and international level, they suggested that it is necessary to impose more restrictions on landfill waste in the EU and require consumers to bring the products used (such as electronics) back to the producers at the end of the product’s life for de-processing.
With regards to food, some countries in Europe, such as Italy and Norway, suggested that there has been some progress in food education and its distribution. For instance, Italy’s “Kilometer 0” campaign to promote local consumption. Nonetheless, youth suggest that it is important to create more campaigns to learn about food issues for children and adults. Among these food issues are: organic food, nutrition and healthy cooking; the social and environmental costs of food, meat consumption in particular; and food distribution costs. Finally, they also recommended that it would be beneficial for society if food regulatory agencies were to measure food production by nutritional value, rather than kilos.
The issue of water was also taken very seriously in the forums. Water is a human right; everyone deserves it and everyone needs it. It is crucial that governments create proper infrastructure to ensure that everyone has access to it.
Many of the youth who participated have suggested to use the tax systems to create, upgrade and maintain this infrastructure, and to improve water treatment systems. Norwegian youth in particular suggested to continue and increase the promotions of existing environmental campaigns such as ““Blue October”, a national campaign in 2009 during which youth could address their demands on water, climate and sanitation to Norwegian politicians.
Energy efficiency is also an issue that needs to be addressed. In the last few decades, there have been major technological developments that can help to ensure that energy is used efficiently. Nonetheless, society has not been implementing these developments as much as we could be. Governments should ensure this expertise is implemented by creating laws and policies that make it difficult for people not to be sustainable.
Furthermore, with regard to the issue of transportation, much could be accomplished by promoting the use of public transportation. Governments should improve public transportation and promote the use of public transportation or car-sharing programs. Additionally, by reducing business travel, the carbon footprint generated by cars could significantly decrease.
Although the youth from each country had different concerns and recommendations, they all agreed on the need to increase environmental education for children and teenagers around the globe. Great things could be achieved if youth had increased knowledge on sustainable development. For example, children and adults need to know more about the consumption of the water, its carbon footprint, and the pros and cons of the current debate in many countries: public or privately owned. Similarly, they need to understand where the energy comes from and how to use it in a sustainable way.
Many participants suggested that one way to ensure this education is transmitted to children is through the collaboration of schools and universities. University students could share their expertise and knowledge about energy with younger students. Also, environmental education should be part of the permanent curriculum in schools. Increasing the knowledge that young people have about these issues could increase their involvement with stakeholder groups, industries and producers.
The recommendations gathered by the Youth Environment and Education Forums are very valuable in shedding light on the principal environmental concerns that the youth have and where would they like to see more work being done. There is clearly a need to increase environmental education as well as an increase in infrastructure for water management and treatment. Similarly, youth would like to see governments implementing more of the technological developments that could help in the transition to a more sustainable society.