Photo: NorwayUN/Emma K Lydersen.Photo: NorwayUN/Emma K Lydersen

Rio+20: Youth 21- Building for Change

Last updated: 6/19/2012 // This statement was delivered by Norwegian Minister of International Development Heikki Holmås during the Yotuh Forum in Rio de Janeiro on June 18th.

Dear friends,
It is a great pleasure and honour to be here at the Youth Forum.  The essence of sustainable development is to develop in a way that does not harm future generation’s possibility to develop. It is therefore critical that you, the young, keep a close watch on what we are doing here in Rio and that your voices are heard. All ministers and heads of states should visit this forum.
Twenty two years ago I had an experience that triggered my interest and involvement in environmental politics and development. In my home town Bergen there was a large international conference in 1990, as a run up to the conference that took place in this city in 1992. Young, radical and impatient, I was among the many protester filling the streets, trying to break into the conference centre. We thought the political ambitions way too low. We stood pushing against the security fences, shouting that the politicians were moving too slowly.
Thinking back on this now, more than twenty years later, it is an odd feeling. I am now on the other side of that security fence. You are the ones shouting at me and my ministerial colleagues. I am the one being told that I do not have the necessary courage to do what has to be done.
We were right then, just the same way that you are right now when you claim that the possible outcomes here in Rio are too little, too late. My job is to try to move as far ahead as possible within the restraints of global multilateral negotiations. Your job is to push us further, to point in the direction of the impossible.
You are right; the international community is delivering too little too late. But we should not forget that substantial progress has been made over the twenty years that has passed since the first conference in Rio. We are not going to meet all the millennium development goals. But it is not all bleak. Nobody worries about acid rain anymore. That was a great concern back in 1992. We’ve tackled the threat to the ozone layer. Fewer people live in extreme poverty. Child mortality has dropped around 30 per cent since 1992. The struggle to secure education for all has been a success.
Politics might be the art of the possible, but from time to time we succeed in making the impossible come thru.
The Arabic spring took us all by surprise. I was in Egypt when it reached that country. We can probably go on for hours discussing what caused this uprising, but I do believe that one central factor was the lack of future for huge numbers of well educated youth. Yes, they had gained access to education, but that was pretty much it.
Young people graduated from university and entered adulthood only to find that their country was already taken and divided between a small number of people from the political and economic elite. For most of them there was simply no way to realize their talents, capabilities, dreams and ambitions. No way they could form, house, raise and feed a family. No way they could do what all young people should consider a basic right; to work hard and live a life in dignity, not having to worry about where your next meal should come from.
Again; very few predicted what happened in Egypt and other Arabic countries. The impossible was made possible, and at the heart of the movement were the young. Lesson learned for political leaders; If you don’t take youth seriously, they’re seriously going to shake you!
Many poor countries – particularly in Africa – have strong economic growth these days. The cake is getting bigger. To accept a life in misery when there is nothing to share is much easier than watching the cake getting bigger, only to still be eaten by the same few and privileged, while you yourself remain in misery. It is extremely important that poor countries find ways to share the cake as it gets bigger.
You should not accept that economic growth is only benefitting the few. You should demand from your politicians that with growth, there also has to be jobs. We are here in Rio to discuss sustainable development. One fundamental pillar in this concept is social sustainability. That means inclusive growth. That means growth with jobs. 
Over the last couple of days I’ve had the possibility to get to know this great nation, Brazil. In the weekend I visited the Amazon, and before coming here today I’ve spent the morning in the favelas of Rio. I believe there is a lot to learn from Brazil. For many years it has been one of the most unequal societies in the world. Gradually this is changing. Tens of millions have been lifted out of poverty through bold, visionary social programs. Brazil’s tremendous growth over the last decade has not been a growth only for the few and privileged.
In the favela this morning I met a woman. I asked her what needed to be improved in her life. Despite being a slum dweller, she said life was good. Life was good because her children en she was have access to higher education. She had left school at thirteen. She said life was good because her children have access to health services. She didn’t have that as a child. She said life was good because her children have opportunities. She didn’t have that as a child.
Although there are still many challenges, I believe Brazil should be an inspiration to people all over the world.
I will take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the governments of Brazil and Sri Lanka and UN-Habitat for having initiated this important event. I am also happy to note that you just have completed “Youth Blast” – the official youth event for Rio+20 which I understand has been an unqualified success with over 2000 delegates from 120 countries. One of the key recommendations coming from this meeting is the need to create mechanisms within the UN system which more meaningfully engage youth such as a Permanent Forum on Youth. This is something we support.
Youth should demand from the UN as well as from their governments the right to participate and to make decisions for a sustainable future. The Secretary General of the UN is also becoming impatient. He recently pointed out in a statement that “although we are making greater efforts to engage youth in our negotiating and decision making processes, I don’t think we have gone nearly far enough”. We fully support the Secretary Generals initiative to establish the post of Special Advisor on Youth to the Secretary General. This will be an important step towards assuring that young people have a seat at the table and that their concerns are heard.
Allow me one last appeal; You are the political leaders of the future. In twenty years some of you will be on the other side of that security fence, just the way I have made the crossing from street activist to government minister. If you do that crossing, do not leave behind your impatience, your radicalism and your belief in the impossible. Thank you!

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