Sitting at the Adult Table: Youth Sub-Committee Members and the Conference Declaration

Student Dan Coviello strives to get youth recommendations adopted.

It’s one thing to want to change the world. It’s quite another to get into specifics. The Youth Sub-Committee of the DPI/NGO Conference wants to do both.

Comprised of representatives aged 18-24 from a variety of NGOs around the world, the Youth Sub-Committee is attempting to shape the global sustainability dialogue by influencing the Conference Declaration. The Declaration, to be released at the conclusion of the conference Monday,  contains the agreed-upon text from member NGOs and will serve as their unified advocacy position leading up to next year’s Rio+20 Conference.

The young people here want the Declaration to include sustainability goals that not only involve but also empower youth. Dan Coviello, a student at Lehigh University in the United States, said that the Sub-Committee gives young people “greater voice in the decision-making process.” Once they arrived at the Conference in Bonn, Sub-Committee members formed ad-hoc working groups devoted to either adding verbiage to the Declaration or lobbying for the preservation of certain verbiage in the final version. Some of the most important topics for youth members include volunteerism, green jobs and sustainable development. According to Coviello, the interests of young people are often pooled with those of other marginalized groups such as women and minorities. Yet Coviello believes this “diminishes the influence we wish to have.”

Bernadette Fischler, Senior Advocacy Coordinator of the World Associate of Girl Guides and Girl Souts, works as a facilitator with the Youth Sub-Committee. She noted that for young people, it is “important to work on the outcome document” of the Conference, or the Declaration itself. Ultimately, it is the “legacy of this meeting,” she said.

Fischler also pointed out that Youth Sub-Committee members are attempting to build a Declaration that is useful as a “lobbying and advocacy document” in preparation for Rio+20. To that end, members center their proposals on those that are “not part of any other suggestions” already put forward in other UN contexts.

Youth Sub-Committee members work long hours drafting and submitting their revisions to the Declaration Committee. Starting daily with an 8 a.m. breakfast meeting, members are often seen manning conference booths and attending other meetings past 8 p.m. in the evening.

Coviello described the experience of participating in a United Nations conference and hoping to see the groups’ ideas incorporated into the final Declaration as plain “fun.” “We made sure we celebrated later in the evening,” he said.

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Giving Voice to the Voiceless

For decades, the Abagusii women in Kenya have been battling issues related to female genital mutilation (FGM). According to a 1998 Kenyan health report, 38% of the Abagusiis had already done the ritual.

Ritva Siemers, a member of the FULDA-Mosocho Project, presented “Giving Voice to Grass Roots People in Kenya” at the 64th UN DPI/NGO Conference. During her presentation she highlighted the health risks associated with FGM, including cervical damage, chronic pelvic infections, urethral damage, psychological disturbance and trauma. The cutting may lead to death due to excessive bleeding.

The Project has adopted a value-centered approach developed by Prof. Dr. Muthgard Hinkelmann-Toewe, director of the Center for Practice-Oriented Feminist Science (Center for PROFS). The approach has been applied by Vivid Communication with Women in their Cultures (VividCom) FULDA, Germany at the FULDA-Mosocho Project, Kenya.

The project aims to promote a communal attitudinal change, leading to the abandonment of the FMG practice. To accomplish this, FULDA-Mosocho ensures that there`s credibility and trust between its officials and the locals. Once this bond is established, open discussions regarding sexual reproductive health and rights are conducted by experts trained on such issues.

The Project developed a 3-year program for teachers throughout the 70 schools in the region. The curriculum includes fundamental scientific and physiological knowledge about female and male anatomies, especially the clitoris. The experts also share knowledge about the life-long effects of FGM with the Abagusiis.

Since its establishment in 2002, The FULDA-Mosocho Project has saved over 16,500 girls from undergoing FGM. “As of 2002, about 98% of Abagusii women and girls have gone under the knife. Today the percentage has been significantly reduced to 36,” Siemers said. The change in behavior has positively impacted males’ perception of women in a patriarchal society.

Robert Nyambega Akumu, coordinator of a community-based organization that sensitizes people about FGM issues and teaches reproductive health, said “a few years ago women were not allowed to make any fundamental decisions in the home. Some could be raped without being permitted to complain and boys always came first before girls.” Nevertheless, Akumu is optimistic that formal education for teachers and informal education for community leaders will greatly reduce female genital mutilation.

Evidence of attitudinal change is becoming evident to Akumu. “The boys I teach are growing up with a different experience than we did,” he said.

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Home on the Range

I’ve gone to a few workshops at the UN DPI/NGO  conference and my overall impression is that organizers are aiming for abstract policy discussion rather than concrete sustainability application.

However, one nongovernmental organization breaks the trend. At the International Federation for Home Economics’ booth, a small metal cook stove and bags of both dried and cooked sweet potatoes showcase international efforts of the organization. The cook stove is meant to be a replacement for dangerous and smoky open fires women use for cooking in many African countries. The sweet potatoes are products of a Tanzanian branch of the organization that is teaching local residents how to plant and harvest the crop.

Pinned to the side of the booth is a list that is perhaps more practical and immediately applicable to many of us: Tips to save energy at your kitchen stove.

Here are a few:

  • Keep metal grease plates under burners clean to reflect heat
  • Keep the stovetop flame small — it shouldn’t go around the sides of the pan
  • Make sure the flame touches the bottom of the pan
  • Make sure the flame is bright blue for the most efficient heat
  • Turn off the cooking appliance a few minutes before the food is cooked
  • Cook food just before eating so you don’t have to reheat or keep it warm
  • Don’t preheat your oven (it’s usually not necessary)
  • Don’t cover your oven racks with aluminum foil
  • Defrost food in the refrigerator, not the microwave

In the midst of a lot of abstraction, these tips can make the concept of “sustainability” concrete and possible for us to implement when we get home.

What about you — what practical ways do you practice sustainability?

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Change agriculture now, says biodiversity expert

“Agricultural sustainability is the single most important factor to influence climate change.” With that statement, UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) section head Dr. Ulrich Hoffmann set the tone for a workshop discussion on the current approach to agriculture and its threat to the planet.

“The current agricultural model is not about creating food, but commodities,” explained physicist Dr. Vandana Shiva. Shiva is a world renowned expert on biodiversity and founder of Navdanya in India, a movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources such as seeds. She pointed out that food, and futures on food, are traded on the commodity markets just as – via stock options in multinationals – the rights to seeds. By patenting seeds, she said, corporations are forcing farmers into buying an expensive product that the earth would normally provide for free. She stated that this drives people into poverty and destroys communities.

Panelist Dr. Hans R. Herren, scientist and founder of the Swiss Biovision Foundation for ecological development in Africa, called for a fundamental shift that needs to happen now. “The speed of change means we have to start to do things today,” he warned. “Business as usual is not an option.”

From left: Ulrich Hoffmann, Vandana Shiva and Hans Herren

Herren and Shiva pointed out that corporations and science working in the interest of corporations have over decades fed the public lies about the benefits of industrial agriculture and genetically modified foods (GMF). In fact, chemical farming deprives the earth of its natural resources, and creates other problems such as climate change, food insecurity, growing inequity, the destruction of indigenous farming and agriculture, and migration.

According to the experts, the solution lies in organic farming. “When we grow organic, we do not just grow healthy food,” Shiva said. “We grow communities who care for the earth and its people.”

Organic agriculture can also serve as an effective tool in controlling global warming. “The fertility of the soil and the quality of the land are directly linked to the changing climate,” UNCTAD’s Ulrich Hoffmann added.

The workshop concluded in the hopes that organic farming will become a part of the policy framework that will be passed at the Rio+20 Conference on Environment and Development next year.

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Population Politics

Ever wonder what reproductive rights and population dynamics have to do with sustainability? You may not have made the connection, but a group of experts believe the two are closely connected.

With the global population expected to reach 7 billion by October 2011, we need to take a hard look at how this will impact world resources, warned Michael Hermann of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) during a conference workshop Sunday entitled “Population Dynamics, Reproductive Health and Rights and Sustainability.”

“If we do not address population issues we will not achieve our sustainability goals,” he said.

That’s because as more people populate the planet, the consumption of resources and production of food and energy will increase, resulting, in what Hermann believes, could have dire environmental and social consequences.

Although a number of other social factors may affect population growth, the consensus among workshop speakers was that a lack of family planning and restrictions on reproductive rights are at the root of the problem.

If trends in population growth and demography are, in fact, linked to poverty rates, as some research has shown, then governments and NGOs need to adopt policies that enable them to influence population dynamics and, to some extent, control population growth, said Gill Greer, Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Greer’s organization is a major advocate for policies on reproductive rights and access to family planning.

Greer argued that in order to eliminate unsustainable consumption and production, it is necessary for states to implement “appropriate demographic policies.”

He attributes his organization’s approach to Principle 8 of the Rio Declaration, a document crafted in 1992 at the UN Conference on Environment and Development. During the workshop, Greer cited Principle 8, which reads: “To achieve sustainable development and a higher quality of life for all people, States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and promote appropriate demographic policies.”

But would the average rural woman actually be receptive to family planning and would this approach be insensitive to certain local traditions and beliefs?

After the workshop, Alice Wells, president of Soroptimist International and a workshop attendee, said she understands those concerns and has found that local players are instrumental in bringing family planning capabilities into isolated tribal communities. For example, in their ongoing programs in Papau New Guinea, Soroptimist works with midwives to educate local women about the benefits of family planning. Only if communities embrace this approach and actually utilize the family planning resources made available to them will such policies be effective, said Wells.

But if certain cultures do not welcome candid discussions about sexual behavior and reproductive health, is it right for IPPF and other advocacy groups to continue efforts to push for these policies? Is it really a problem of access or is it a fundamental difference in beliefs?

Those are the questions UNFPA and IPPF should address.

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A call for change in Civil Society Organisations

NGOs and CSOs must make changes within their own organizations before they can effect changes in the societies they aim to improve. This was the consensus of five experts in a workshop entitled “Have We Lost Vision and Courage? The Role of Civil Society in Democracies Reviewed.”

The challenges NGOs must address include:

  • Re-focusing on Local Issues. Civil society organisations need to target the roots of big issues within local contexts. “We have become top down,” said Michael Naberhaus, pointing out that the current focus on international change ignores local issues, which not only fails to engage communities locally, but also allows original causes of many issues being tackled to be lost.  “We now need to focus on the deeper roots of the issue,” he added.
  • Embracing Social Sciences. Communication about environmental issues must be not just through facts but in more emotional terms to highlight their societal impact.
  • Creating Organisational Unity. Sectors of NGOs/CSOs are going in different directions with their individual work. Due to the interlinked nature of many issues surrounding sustainability, this approach will not lead to wider collaborative results.
  • Innovation.  NGOs/CSOs are struggling without enough success to become more creative in their approaches, with the result that current poor practices are becoming engrained in the NGO/CSO system.
  • Re-igniting Grassroots Passion. Many organisations are becoming too engulfed within large institutions, with the result that a passionate grassroots NGO becomes a small delegate constrained by a larger framework. This is not only disheartening for those actively involved, but to the extent that freedom and innovation is lost, results are reduced.
  • Securing Funding. While governments may agree in principle with analyses of sustainability that organisations provide, more so than in the previous decade, they are still unwilling to provide necessary funding. Lack of financial support in general is a serious barrier to implementing organisational changes highlighted in the workshop.

In preparation for ‘The Great Transition’ – a term used by Naberhaus to describe the fundamental transformation of societies to become more sustainable – panellists agreed that these restricting issues need to be addressed.

Youth panelist Michaela Hogenboom

Panellists represented civil society organizations from various European countries, including Leida Rjinhout from the Northern Alliance for Sustainability in the Netherlands, Dirk Messner from the German Advisory Council on Global Change, Maia Goepel from the World Future Council in Belgium, and Alexander Juras, Chief of the Major Group and Stakeholder Branch of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Germany.

Despite potential pessimism in the face of such challenges, UN Youth Representative on Sustainable Development Michaela Hogenboom provided a note of optimism in explaining opportunities civil organisations now have. “We have identified the need for change, and that is a good start,” she said. “Now we need to talk. Let us learn from each other.”

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It is Your World. Now Fix It.

Namaste. You are India. You want to develop a partnership with Europe on clean technology. Well, that’s not free. You have to pay 500 Nobel into a climate fund – a lot of play money in the new world currency. But later you receive 1500 Nobel from that fund to close a dirty CO2 factory. Is it worth it? You must decide whether this is a beneficial investment that world countries can work on together. Without such collaboration, the world ends up in a chaos.
But you are lucky. This is just a game.

“We know everything. So I wanted to bring the knowledge from the climate change conference to the tables of the families back home. I did that through a game,” according to Dr. Otto Ulrich, engineer, political scientist, and the game’s designer.

Volunteers from the conference discovering Cooling Down! for the first time

The board game “Cooling down!” enables players to take the roles of major world regions and decide upon the future of the world.

“The aim of the game is to improve your consciousness about the future,” Ulrich said. The future, however, is full of complex climate change issues that must be handled collaboratively and fairly.

Russia, for example, has to seriously consider how to solve poverty issues in developing countries. But can Russia afford to pay 3,000 Nobel for climate projects? Participants must make such tough decisions, recognizing that interdependence is the only path to viability.

The game’s target group is students 16 years old and older. “The game is not only for joke (just for fun),” Ulrich emphasizes, as the players must be able to build upon their knowledge about climate change. “Afterwards you are a world citizen. You start with the position ‘I’ and ‘me’ and later on we have the feeling of ‘we’ and ‘us,’” Ulrich said. To date 2,000 games have been sold internationally.

Dr. Otto Ulrich, engineer, political scientist, and the game’s designer.

It is a game to learn about the world, Oliver Hasenkamp said as he completed his first round. “The game seems well thought-out. But it is really complex.” This opinion is shared by a number of other participants who got a short glimpse of the game during a workshop at the 64th DPI/NGO conference.

A brief view is not enough to enable one to master the challenges.  “The game can last two weeks or two years,” Ulrich said. The climate change problems unfortunately last even longer.

By Bettina Benzinger and Manisha Deena

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Environmental Governance at a Crossroads

Should the United Nations create a World Environment Organisation? Close to four decades after the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) was established, the international community must carefully consider how to manage highly complex environmental challenges that have emerged since. In this regard, the Asia-Europe Environment Forum (ENVforum) is to organise an experts’ workshop to assess the options for the UN. About 30 experts from diverse backgrounds, including government, civil society, youth and the business sector met in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, from 17 to 18 July 2011.

The 1st Workshop resulted in the interim report presenting draft of 4 scenarios of possible futures. The meeting was the first out of a series of three informal consultations that have been planned ahead of the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), to capture the input of key stakeholders in Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) countries.

Focusing specifically on possible reform scenarios for the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD), the meeting benefited from the knowledge and participation of 34 international participants representing governments, regional and international organisations, civil society organisations, academe, think tanks, the media, the private sector and the youth, in Asia and Europe. The workshop is an initiative of the Asia-Europe Environment Forum (ENVforum), a partnership between the Asia-Europe Foundation, the Hanns Seidel Foundation, the Institute of Global Environmental Strategies, the Swedish Environmental Secretariat for Asia and the United Nations Environment Programme.
Learn more.

Grazyna Pulawska from Asia-Europe Foundation

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Prolong the ‘Arab Spring’

The World Lebanese Cultural Union, through its delegation to the 64th UN DPI/NGO  conference, suggests the following recommendations:

  • To salute the rising movements of the civil societies in the Arab world, as proof of distinguished courage
  • To invite the actors of the Arab spring to quickly found their own NGOs, to join the UN DPI so they take part of its programmes and share with the other countries’ NGOs their experience to quickly make up for the years of wasted freedom of expression.
  • To encourage the NGOs of the Middle East and North Africa to ask their governments to invite the DPI to host its next annual conference, because it is time to be in direct contact with this very valuable event and to make a better exchange.
  • For any Conference dedicated to the Middle East and the Arab World, we suggest to adopt the following theme: Diversity, the only way for a sustainable peace.

Fady Haffar, President of WLCU National Council in Germany

Roger Hani, President of WLCU Regional Council of Europe


Georges Abi Raad, WLCU World Vice President for Europe
Tel : +33 6 64 97 75 51 – Fax: +33 9 55 29 75 51

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Organizers Tap Conference Attendees for Policy Recommendations

Nearly 100 representatives from NGOs brainstormed ways to conserve food, water and energy Saturday. Their suggestions will guide discussion at a conference in Bonn later this fall.

Ideas ranged from concrete policy suggestions, such as taxing private businesses based on their environmental impact, to the importance of raising individual and community awareness. Johan Kuylenstierna, center director of the Stockholm Environment Institute and a speaker at the workshop, said he primarily talks with policy leaders.

“Here we have representation of a group of people that we would not normally reach out to,” he said.
Organizers will review the comments and create discussion topics for the November conference, which will treat water, energy and food as intertwined resources that need to be addressed together. Too often, Kuylenstierna said, people view the issues as rivals assuming that saving one resource, like food, involves overuse of another resource, such as water. He hopes to shift the focus to saving all resources at the same time.

Ideas and policy recommendations generated from the Bonn conference will then be a German contribution to the Rio+20 conference next year, according to the conference website. Attendees at Rio+20 are expected to create policy recommendations for governments and track sustainable development practices around the world.  But shifting policy is a long, complicated process not typically completed during a conference, Kuylenstierna said.

“What you need to do is slowly shift the perspective and the agenda of global development discussions,” he said.

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