Young and Green

Min Cheong

Dr Stefanos Fotious

“The generation that is running the planet right now cannot really provide the solutions to climate change and the single hope for the future lies with the youth.”

This refreshingly bold proclamation opened a candid discussion featuring Dr Stefanos Fotiou, Regional Coordinator for Resource Efficiency of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), who graced the recent World Leadership Conference (WLC) 2011 as the event’s keynote speaker.

In an interview with New Asia Republic, Dr Fotiou shared his sentiments on youth environmental advocacy and analysed existing international structures established to expedite climate change mitigation.

Commenting on the environmental cul-de-sac inherent within status quo, Dr Foutiou opined that global leaders and adults of the present era were not only less beleaguered by the effects of climate change but also largely not encouraged, through erudition, to nurture the very environmental consciousness that has experientially permeated the collective awareness of this epoch of young individuals, deeming the latter so much more pivotal to the widespread establishment of sustainable development practices.

He also spoke of his faith in the global community of youth and their aggrandised proclivity towards environmental picketing for the greater good, citing the WLC, among numerous other climate change projects, as a crucial component of the youth-led environmental movement; one which possesses strong potential to influence intergovernmental policy on a supranational front.

Indeed, WLC 2011, organised by Environmental Challenge Organisation Singapore (ECO Singapore), holds much promise in terms of creating a positive environmental impact of real consequence; a key outcome of the symposium is a document of recommendations, conceived by its young participants, to be presented to an assembly of national and non-government stakeholders at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)’s Rio+20 Summit in 2012.

However, Dr Fotiou was keen to characterise state-level advocacy as a critical accompaniment to youth-initiated climate change activism and expressed a desire for the signatories on the document (as well as youth the world over) to remain committed and contribute meaningfully to their collective cause by “not waiting for the next climate change conference and not waiting for Rio+20 to happen” before attempting to deepen involvement in the political process.

Adamant that these young individuals should “start now”, he stated that without the backing of national governments, the WLC 2011 document would lose its legitimacy and poignancy, and youth communities must act with a sense of urgency in lobbying their respective governments to adopt and implement policies geared towards environmentalism and should also collaborate with non-state entities to more successfully further the green cause.

A firm believer in cross-cleavage cooperation, Dr Fotiou’s convictions on symbiotic partnerships extend to the multifarious frameworks for climate change in existence. In his view, both traditional and informal structures serve the common purpose of facilitating the generation of climate change legislation and policies – grassroots activism espouses representation for a broader range of constituents and issues and is complemented by established protocol through which complex intergovernmental decisions can be engendered.

In lieu of the power appended to grassroots/voluntary advocacy, the roles youth play on the international stage are central to the climate change policy script and should not be taken lightly.

Elucidating this notion with reference to the unique quandaries faced by the current generation of youth, Dr Fotiou remarked that one of the hardest tests for the youth of this age pertains to making the right choices, considering the myriad of options made available to them due to a culture of rampant consumerism, and that this predicament is one cohorts of yonder did not have to contend with.

Youth of developed countries will have to rationalise their way through the pros and cons of shouldering responsibility for their predecessors’ actions and lifestyles and decide how best to do so while youth from developing nations will be confronted with the moral imperative to not repeat the mistakes of the previous generation as well as the societies of the industrialised world.

Yet, there is a silver lining surrounding the smog of apparent hardship. Dr Fotiou notes that philosophical panaceas for the attainment of ecological sustainability have been formulated by young minds – concepts such as International Gross Happiness and sufficient economies – and can possibly bring the world a step  closer  (with nary a carbon footprint) towards achieving environmental equity.

Furthermore, enlightened education has also inspired a shift in attitudes within the youth of this era and has armed these young individuals with knowledge and wisdom essential for cultivating an awareness of universal interconnectivity central to environmentalism and sustainable development as ideologies.

As such, it is no surprise that Dr Fotiou is anticipating the release of the youth-prescribed WLC 2011 document and hoping that UNEP will be able to support the policy suggestions conceptualised by the delegates of the World Leadership Conference 2011, and if just a few propositions presented within the WLC 2011 document are accepted by participating governments and crystallised into binding legislation at the Rio+20 Summit, there might just be some hope for the current generation running the planet.