I'm just back from the UN’s Intl. Youth Year High Level Meeting – one of the very few times when the UN’s old General Assembly Chamber rings with the sound of politicians speaking up on behalf of youth. Sadly, the outcome document made no mention of Rio+20, the Green Economy or even Sustainability! But the UN Secretary General made up for it in a rousing opening speech where he called Rio+20 “one of the most important meetings in the UN’s History. It will determine our collective future. Heads of State must come,” he said, “And young people must play a central role in bringing dynamic new ideas, fresh thinking and energy to it.”
Well – I didn’t hear any of the Youth Speakers at the HLM mention Rio+20. Certainly, they didn’t add any energy or fresh thinking. I can’t remember any of them even mentioning Rio+20! Though Rio+20 youth Prepcoms are proliferating around the world, the youth of ICMYO (the 30-strong, self-appointed Youth coalition that seeks to coordinate international youth meetings) – did not see fit to insist that this, the youth of today’s biggest generational challenge, should feature in either the youth interventions or the outcome document. I complained about ICMYO and the serious vacuum in youth leadership after the debacle of the Mexico World Youth Conference last year –on which ICMYO also took leadership. Their failure with the IYY HLM is more serious as every UN member state was involved in this.
Into that vacuum stepped PCI and its partner, Taking IT Global, who, together, organised a well-attended side meeting on: “How to mobilise youth globally for Rio+20.”
The answers appeared to be:
“Tell your friends”
“Use the power of online networks…”
But the most striking intervention came from my friend, Tariq Banuri – who made it clear, to me at least, why the UN is betting the farm on success in Rio next year. The UN is about eradicating poverty: Tariq explained that, throughout history, economic growth has only occurred in times of cheap, plentiful energy – whether timber, coal, oil or more recently gas. Statistics prove that the world is never going to eradicate poverty using fossil fuels: they are already too expensive – and will only get more expensive. So the transition to a Green Economy is an imperative for the eradication of poverty – not just for Green Growth, the creation of green jobs, avoiding climate change – and all the other reasons that make that transition a no-brainer.
And yet, as the US Congress struggles to increase its debt ceiling, very few of the US citizens I spoke were even aware there is a problem: yes, gas has gone up to four times what it was ten years ago – but, well?! – “Things go up!” they say, “If oil runs out, we’ll find an alternative…. Biofuel or something.” Well – they won’t: even if farmers in the US cultivated every scrap of US agricultural land for biofuels, it would not create enough to meet the demand of the domestic transport fleet – let alone all the power stations and factories currently run on fossil fuels.
Some countries are blazing a trail to a low-carbon or zero carbon future: Iceland, Costa Rica, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark, Israel and Germany are on their way. Several other nations are making big strides in that direction, including China and Spain. But most are not even out of the starting gate. The problem is not yet on their radar. The USA is only the biggest example.
I have previously pointed out that the transition to a Green Economy has to be a NATIONAL decision. The UN can pester, cajole and advise – but only national governments can levy the green taxes and deliver the subsidies that will make sustainable consumption and production(C&P) cheaper and more attractive. That is why – the best thing that can come out of Rio+20 is a commitment by all UN Member States to publish NATIONAL PLANS for a rapid transition to a Green Economy. The publication should be by – say – June 30th 2013 and the transition should be complete by - say - 2035(?)
In the absence of any work being done on this in your country, I urge youth everywhere to start creating their own National Green Economy Transition Plans. The framework for such plans could include the following:
1. Phase out all subsidies for fossil fuels and unsustainable C & P by 2015;
2. Calculate your nation’s total energy needs and map out a zero carbon energy infrastructure – based on wind, wave, tidal and solar power + biofuels and biogas; to be built by (??) 2025;
3. Revise your Nation’s education curriculum to ensure that education for sustainable lifestyles is at the heart of it by 2015;
4. Make a plan to retro-fit your nation’s housing stock with super-insulation by 2025 to reduce the national fuel requirement;
5. Make a plan for a National Tax regime that rewards sustainable and punishes unsustainable behaviours, especially the use of fossil fuels, with higher taxes.
6. Make national plans for sustainable agriculture and fisheries
7. Make fresh water and sanitation a right for all your nation’s citizens – and map out strategies for delivering it
8. Most important of all, create a national budget that allows for a welfare safety net to support the vulnerable and ensure that all have equal access to basic needs (including health care);
9. Finally – review your security needs and ensure that your nation is creative about peace-keeping through non-military means, and that policing is a community joint effort rather than a centralised, top-down national one;
Of course – there could be many, many other components to such transition plans – and some will run to hundreds of pages. But the point is: the world is looking for leadership in this transition: Ban Ki Moon may struggle to get his UN member state governments to provide it. But – at the very least – the Rio+20 Summit can call for all UN Member States to deliver their plans for Green Growth transition to zero carbon economies by June 30th 2013.
Mr Ban, and the UN, need all the help they can get to deliver even that modest goal at Rio+20. Youth can provide it: we must lobby ministers in our national capitals to develop outline national plans ahead of the June 2012 Summit. We can draw on existing national plans and templates drawn up by those governments that are already looking ahead. And we can do our own research and pester ministers with our own, viable strategies for the transition. For it is in the interests of youth to do so: it is they – not the older generation – who must achieve that transition – or live in energy-stressed, food stressed, water-stressed penury by mid-century. For, make no mistake, poverty and unemployment will get much, much worse if we cling to the business-as-usual brown economy model. With oil at $500 to $1000 a barrel – none of the tenets of our current civilisation will be affordable. With peak oil production passed in 2006, and stocks dwindling fast – that is the future we are heading towards.
So it is a no-brainer that we have to change direction – and Rio+20 offers us the perfect opportunity to make that change.
So – how are we going to do it?
Step ONE: write to the UN – in my next blog, I am going to introduce you to the UN guidance on how to do this, and lay out the PCI Road to Rio+20 Campaign. This involves writing to the UN BEFORE 17.00 EST on Tuesday November 1st. Everyone can write – and every one MUST write – to show the UN and its member states that Youth care.
Step TWO: start work researching your national plans and your own personal action plan for leading a low-carbon / no-carbon lifestyle; write a concept note for a Green Economy business: go to www.geebiz.biz The Private sector built the brown economy, and the private sector will build the Green Economy – and youth must devise the business start-ups that will deliver it.
Step THREE: start raising awareness: ask to host an assembly in your school or college; request a Town Hall Meeting; make your town a Transition Town. Write to your elected officials (of course!) – send out a press release; hold an exhibit at your school or college about the new, clean Green Economy. Plan to do ALL of the above and accentuate the POSITIVE: show how much fun it will be to live in a Green Economy: show how much healthier it will be than the atmosphere currently created by the Brown Economy. (Believe me, it is: I have just been in Beijing – and the smog and humidity kept me in bed for my last day there!)
Step FOUR: keep watching, learning – exploring how best to make this transition. I am! That point about eradication of poverty being dependent upon the transition to the Green Economy – that was an epiphany for me: and I keep having such moments. It is dazzlingly clear to me that those of us who are arguing for a rapid transition to the Green Economy are on the right side of history: but all of us still have masses to learn about how to get there.
Those countries and corporations who join us – they are going to be the world leaders and Fortune 500 companies of the future. Products drawn from oil-fuelled companies will become just too expensive to be able to make any one very rich any more: even the oil companies are going to suffer diminishing returns as the quantity of their sales diminish – even though they will be selling at higher prices. And very quickly, it will not seem cool any more to burn fossil fuels.
For the kicker in all this is climate change. Remember that? It is not being much mentioned in the UN debates I have heard – and, in a way, it seems like a throwback to an earlier, more innocent era. Global Warming, Sea-level rise, extreme weather – “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!!!!” we screamed! “Get us some legally binding deal to stop those criminals flooding our coastlines, melting our glaciers and polar ice caps…” And it didn’t happen. Governments are not likely to pass laws that they know they are going to break – and then throw themselves in jail for doing so. We have to find another way.
But make no mistake: avoiding catastrophic climate change is the big prize to be won in the race to transition rapidly to the Green Economy. Those consequences have not gone away: on the computer I write this on is a bumper sticker saying: “For the Island States – 1.5 degrees to stay alive!” We’re horribly close to that – and the island states are in real peril.
So – my friends: this is not a game we’re involved in. This is about survival. Your survival – my survival: the survival of our species, our biodiversity, our eco-systems and our civilisation. It is not something we can ever give up on. In the words of good old Dylan Thomas: “Rage! Rage! – against the dying of the light!”