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Sri Lanka’s Youth Plan for Sustainable Development

The Rio+20 Summit is in full swing and the Sri Lankan arm has taken its first initiative, in which a statement has been presented to the Minister of Environment. Post-war Sri Lanka certainly is in need of a system of sustainable development and at this stage the country has a fresh start in which adopting such a system is relatively trouble free; or so it should be.

The statement that encapsulates several vital areas in sustainable development was drafted by over 30 youth-led and youth-focus local organizations that are involved in environmental conservation, management, climate change, sustainable development and advocacy for environmental issues. Bringing these organizations together and orchestrating Sri Lanka’s participation in the Rio Summit, is the Youth for a Greener Sri Lanka (YGSL) that was established earlier this year (March 2012). The statement is a position paper on which future projects will be based. The paper was presented to the Ministry of Environment, as the ministry had arranged for the involvement of youth groups in the process. Nashen Gunesekera, the drafting committee chair, says it shows the enthusiasm of the government as other governments had not involved environmental conscious volunteer groups, apart from the ministry’s own.

Attaining sustainable development

A large team of local environmentally conscious youths has formulated a multipronged action plan, addressing several key areas that are intrinsic in the development of a nation. Top of the list and under the umbrella of youth policy positions, the statement mentions society’s role in sustainable development. The activists believe that equality is essential, they explained “our aspiration is equality for all, and not the luxury of the 20 per cent of the world’s people who enjoy the exploitation of 80 per cent of its resources.”

Well-being and happiness as well as right mindfulness were also highlighted as the cornerstone to sustainable development. Society being at the heart of development, even with an extraordinary physical plan, it cannot fruition sans the right mindset of the people.

The economy is another key area that needs to be addressed, and therefore, the team included environmental sustainability and poverty reduction, and a Green Economy in the statement. YGSL explains, “A Green Economy should replace the current economic order of inequity, destruction and greed. A Green Economy should be an economic system that ensures social equity, protects the ecological balance and creates economic sufficiency. The core idea of a Green Economy should be to enforce sustainability, specifically the wellbeing of all people and respecting and preserving the biodiversity of Earth’s ecosystems.

A green economy manages consumption and production in an environmentally conscious manner. The document indicated, Agenda 21 (Chapter 4.3), which is an outcome of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED 1992) states that; “The major cause of the continued deterioration of the global environment is the unsustainable pattern of consumption and production, particularly in industrialized countries, which is a matter of grave concern, aggravating poverty and imbalances.” According to the team enabling the SCP should be the focus of any emerging international outcome. SCP is a systemic process of lifestyle and livelihood behaviours that ensures the wellbeing of all people in an equitable manner while conserving the ecology for current and future generations.

Political solutions are on the cards as well as sustainable development governance, which they said, “We understand Sustainable Development Governance should necessarily create platforms at every level for the voice of youth to be heard and to be considered within the decision making processes, for it is on the shoulders of youth the responsibility rests.”

On that note they believe it is necessary to establish an office for the ombudsperson — high commission for future generations. “We the youth representatives of Youth for a Greener Sri Lanka understand that there is a lacuna in current decision making processes and institutions of the world, especially as all of them fail to consider the long term effects of decisions made today. The proposal stated at paragraph 57 of the Zero Outcome document calling for the establishment of an Ombudsperson/High Commissioner for Future Generations is thus an opportunity to meet this short coming and by establishing such an office, we believe that both the aspirations of youth and future generations will be protected.”

How Sustainable Development Can be Achieved

The team also presented a set of recommendation that can be adopted by the Government of Sri Lanka as well as the governments in the international arena. They laid emphasis on the inclusion of the youth at all levels of decision making so the future can be shaped to suit the next generation better. The team expressed, “We wish to state by participation, youth are empowered and are given the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential hence enabling them to harness their skills required to move the world toward the paradigm shift which is necessary to achieve economic growth, social equity and environmental sustainability.”

Employment for the youth is also mandatory for a better greener future, according to the local Rio+20 Summit members. “At present there is a lack of green job initiatives and access to green skills training programmes for young people. We believe bridging the skills gap among young people through improved education and training will be a key to achieving environmental objectives and a transition to a green economy.”

Education and training  —  skills development opportunities, the opportunity for youth to volunteer to achieve sustainable development.

The President will present the paper as part of the country report at the summit. Neshan Gunesekara said, “The international community will analyze, scrutinize and criticize the paper. The point of presenting the paper at an international forum is so that other countries can take stock of what Sri Lanka has achieved over the years and adopt some of these strategies that will help them.

He added that, he personally believes that the youth of Sri Lanka is very environmentally conscious, and they have shown an initiative but what they lack, is the support of the government and other authorities, in implementing plans and taking their concerns into consideration.

Well, that’s good news for BB too. Having particular goals will help us channel our efforts in these areas and those connected to contribute to sustainable development in Sri Lanka. It should also make devising project plans easier. So three cheers to our Rio paper!

-Megara Tegal

Meg is a member of the steering committee of Beyond Borders. She’s a journalist and a world class klutz. She blogs here. Her opinions are her own.