The vital role of civil society and youth at Rio+20
Maggie Simmons, a Girlguiding UK representative in the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) delegation to Rio+20, describes her experience of the conference and the important role played by civil society and youth delegates.
Attending Rio+20 was an incredible opportunity to represent not only more than 500,000 members of Girlguiding UK and the 10 million members of WAGGGS, but also to represent all young women and girls around the world.
Civil society: energising the conference
Having not been to a UN conference before, I was unsure of what to expect. I found civil society events such as the Youth Blast and the People’s Summit to be vibrant and they played a key role in energising a conference that did not have a particularly positive atmosphere.
Although restricted, the access that we were allowed to the negotiations was eye-opening and I was impressed with how open negotiators were to meeting and interacting us.
Recognition for non-formal education
As a delegation, WAGGGS were successful in mobilising with the Major Group for Children and Youth to lobby negotiators for the inclusion of non-formal education in the text. The five lead negotiators who supported us were presented with ‘Citizen Specialist’ badges in recognition and we were pleased that the paragraph remained in the outcome document. This would not have been possible without the inclusion of civil society in the proceedings and the cooperation of negotiators.
In addition, the UK representatives were grateful for our inclusion in the daily UK delegation meetings and to Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman for taking the time to listen to us.
Engaging side events
I felt the extensive programme of side events that ran concurrently helped delegates to engage with the conference issues. Other than our own well-attended side event on “Youth-Led Solutions to Sustainable Development”, the event I found the most engaging and enjoyable was the special event chaired by Caroline Spelman on the “Economics of Sustainable Development”. There was a distinguished panel of speakers, including the economist Jeffrey Sachs, who said “we should mobilise the Girlguiding and Scouting community” – something we intend to do as we implement our projects in our own countries.
The conference outcome
I don’t think anybody attending Rio+20 expected the outcome to be as ground-breaking as the first Earth Summit in 1992. However, while the outcome document is not particularly ambitious I would prefer to be optimistic that there is one, rather than pessimistic about what is lacking. There are good points to the document, but it’s easy to forget these to focus on the less positive and non-existent points. I’m glad the UK are actively supporting the generation of Sustainable Development Goals. I hope those issues overlooked at Rio+20 such as women’s rights are considered and included within these.
I believe one of the key outcomes of the conference was the reaffirmation that members of civil society must work together and bring about change at a local level.
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