During its third session, the highest level decision making body on the environment, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA3), gave the child and the youth an early, rare Christmas gift – that of growing space at the table of global environment discourse.
Converging under the “Towards a Pollution-free planet”, the global leadership gave three things to the young people and children. The first notable gift was that of the promise that some of the heads of states actually prioritize and care about the future they hand to their children. This was the first UNEA to be opened and addressed by three heads of states consecutively. H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya officially opened the High –Level segment and his message was buttressed by H.E. Brigadier David Granger, The President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, and echoed by H.E. Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona, the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Of the three, H.E. Carmona’s was the most youth- and child-centered address. At instances, President Carmona was heard referring to “the environmental student of today [being] the policymaker of tomorrow” and “proposing the child advocate… who becomes an advocate for the environment… even saving us adults from ourselves…”
The second gift was the opportunity for a youth and child to present the 2,407,195 #BeatPollution pledges signed by individuals all over the world. This was another sign of commitment towards the involvement of young people and children in the limelight of deliberations from the Assembly and the UN Environment. The pledges entailed how, at individual level, the peoples of this planet were going to combat, mitigate or prevent land, water, and air pollution through practical, livable lifestyle commitments. Upon signing the pledges online, individuals had the opportunity to share them with their social media audiences.
At the helm of the various forums and deliberations the Major Group for Children and Youth (MGCY), which is one of the nine major groups of the UN Environment Program had the opportunity to prepare and deliver five statements in different capacities under the very able leadership of the Global coordinator for UNEP MGCY, Mirna Ines Fernández Pradel. A statement delivered on behalf of the nine major groups at the closing plenary by 18-year-old environmental conservationist from Kenya, Lily Tanui, was the highlight of the active engagement of young people in the UNEA 3. In her speech, Ms. Tanui called for sustained efforts towards transparent reporting and accountability mechanisms, welcomed the UNEP Strategy on the protection of Environmental Defenders, and called upon member states to provide the necessary financial support to the UN Environment, as this would help them in achieving the ambitious targets and a viable link to the High Level Political Forum (HLPF). At the leadership dialogue, David Munene – Programs Manager at the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA) presented a statement on behalf of the MGCY.
This year, the UNEP Secretary of the Governing Bodies confirmed only six side events during the UNEA 3. This was a drastic shift from UNEA2’s 28 Green Room Events, amongst which CYNESA co-hosted a Green Room Event as a moderated, informal discussion about the development work of faith-based organizations, focused on creating and enhancing partnerships at local and global levels in support of the 2030 Development Agenda with Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, World Council of Churches, Canada, on Tuesday 24th May 2016. However, this year, a tent devoted exclusively to Civil Society would eventually house a side event by MGCY to present some of the work that children and youth are undertaking around the globe in support of environmental conservation by implementing diverse, context-based innovative solutions.
The growing space for children and youth at the table of global environment discourse cannot be ignored. Although the UN Environment has continued to set good, progressive precedence through the UNEA, more is expected, more can be achieved. The space does not have to be through MGCY alone, as all the other 9 major groups, all member states, and staffing at the UN Environment must include children and youth or at least youth for children and youth.
David N. Munene,
CYNESA – Programs Manager.