A Louder Voice for Civil Society at Rio+20? Interview with Kiara Worth (By Rahul Daswani)

Since the creation of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) in 1992, nine major groups of civil society have been given important roles to play as partners in sustainable development. I got to speak with Kiara Worth, the Organizing Partner for the UN Commission for Sustainable Development Major Group for Children and Youth, ahead of the Rio+20 summit to discuss her thoughts on the main goals for Rio+20, participation from youth on key issues and a greater role for civil society through the arts.

RD: What do you see as the main goals for Rio+20?
KW: To advance participation of young people at local, national and global levels to influence sustainable development according to a youth specific policy; and to inspire local action for the implementation of sustainable development.

Rio+20 is an opportunity for youth around the world to be involved in ways they haven’t been before. We can create a world in which human potential is explored, and celebrate our differences via performance arts – bigger notions of sustainable development.

In fact, Rio+20 is the most important conference because it lays the framework for everything else – so not as ‘sexy’ as climate change or other self-contained issues, which reflects the broader challenge of sustainable development as a whole: a massive integrated array of things that is harder to manage. It is difficult to support, there will be lots of challenges, because it requires people to change the way things work. There are a lot of governments that are quite comfortable with their economic and social positioning at the moment, why would they change things?

Ultimately it’s about building that energy, its about giving people the idea that things can be different, its just about how you can make it different. And that’s social transformation, that’s whats so exciting that can come about from these conferences hosted by the UN that are independent of the policy outcomes.

RD: What kind of tangible outcomes do you see emerging from Rio+20?
KW: In terms of concrete outcomes, we are aiming for a stronger policy document that will hold governments accountable. We want to focus on a new concept of sustainable development, to redesign the way the world works – focusing on equity, justice, youth. The outcome document should also include a continued focus on human rights – there needs to be a discussion on how governments are weakening references to human rights obligations from the outcome document.

Additionally, we hope to inspire a youth movement: There have been discussions around whether the negotiations are going to be successful, and whether there is going to be a legally binding document. Will people come to action? Largely the expectation is no, but there is still an opportunity to empower young people across the world to engage in policy negotiations at the local level.

Rio+20 is about building the process of how people engage in the process, rather than just about the outcome document. We have had a focus on policy through our contributions to the Zero draft. Along with formal negotiations, networks have been set up with thousands of youth around the world contributing to policy. Various task forces have aligned to different topics that have contributed to drafting the texts.

RD: How are you planning to get participation from a variety of youth at and beyond Rio+20?

KW: At Rio+20, we have targeted a Youth Blast – a conference of the youth, and the official young people side event at Rio+20. Beyond the Rio+20 summit, we have an e-participation plan. It’s not just about attending Rio+20, its about the youth involving themselves in the process and implementing at the local level.

Youth Blast: About 3000 people registered to attend, and it was divided into 2 segments from 7-12th June.

Objectives of Youth Blast:
a) build capacity: provide young people with the tools to effectively engage in the process at Rio+20
b) strategize for Major Group’s participation at Rio+20
c) develop a post rio+20 agenda that incorporates the outcomes at Rio

7-8 June: Brazilian days – To support the local movement, these sessions were oriented for Brazilian youth in Rio

10-12: International days – The Brazilian youth movement was introduced to the international youth movement in preparation for the main Rio+20 summit.

How: Plenary sessions in the mornings were followed by 2 ‘streams of engagement’ breakout sessions: The first was a policy overview, while the second was an elective stream, consisting of over workshops organized by youth around the world running 45-90 min sessions – over 300 applications to host workshops were received, including youth activism, stories, art workshops, policy workshops.

While only 500 people turned up, likely due to the high cost of international travel and accommodation costs in Rio, that too over a week before the final Rio+20 negotiations, those who had a chance to attend had diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Sébastien Duyck, from the Adopt a Negotiator Project, for instance, provided his thoughts: “Walking around the Youth Blast is indeed a unique experience, inspired youth painting banners, while high-level UN officials share their expectations and accept to be challenged by uncompromising activists in relation to the activities of the bodies under their supervision… While discussions on banning (fossil fuel subsidies) were in full swing, another group engaged in discussions with Achim Steiner, UNEP’s Executive Director.”

Youth Blast participants at work. Photo courtesy of Sébastian Duyck.

E-participation plan: We will have thousands of people updating social media, not just on Facebook but also through livestreaming, and tweeting, to build the youth movement across the globe. We’ve hosted several #mycity+20 conferences (like #NY+20, in partnership with the Ford Foundation and others) which has got the youth excited about contributing to Rio+20. Our twitter account, @MGCY_UNCSD continues to post live from Rio, and we encourage people to use the hashtag #beyondrio to input ideas on how young people can build a movement after Rio+20.

RD: Can you elaborate on how you foresee a greater role for civil society through the arts?

KW: The arts can help revive the spirit of Rio: both by instilling greater participation of civil society, and by helping people shift paradigms through motivation and inspiration. Ultimately, the only way we can rethink our perception of wealth is by changing behaviors.

The arts are a mechanism to build relationships, find points of interest and
commonality. The role of art in sustainable development is huge: we can ‘Inspire the future’, reviving the spirit of Rio from ‘92 – Through the arts, video, and social media, we can mobilize a space where people can share ideas, stories, and have a platform to engage with each other.

We’ve had various people around the world have competitions, drawing symbols for Rio+20. At the Youth Blast, there were creative workshops, creative spaces for banners, paint, story cabinets and an exchange of cultures. Our website is and will continue to be a platform where people can engage, network and sustain contact post Rio+20.

Rahul Daswani is a member of the Class of 2013 Master in Public Policy program at Harvard Kennedy School.

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