One of the most important outcomes of the CITES CoP17 meeting in Johannesburg, was the adoption of the first ever resolution on youth and conservation. Sponsored by the United States and South Africa, the document presented to the parties for adoption, acknowledged the need for engaging young people in decision making processes on wildlife conservation now, as a way of equipping them for leadership.
The document further acknowledged that young people are tech-savvy, skills which can be employed as valuable tools in addressing illegal wildlife trade.
Engaging young people in international environmental decision making processes is not a new concept. Article 25 of Agenda 21, the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, states that “The involvement of today’s youth in environment and development decision-making and in the implementation of programmes is critical”.
Agenda 21 is in fact, quite unambiguous on how to go about ensuring youth voices are represented and heard in decision making: “Each country should, in consultation with its youth communities, establish a process to promote dialogue between the youth community and Government at all levels and to establish mechanisms that permit youth access to information and provide them with the opportunity to present their perspectives on government decisions”.
In this context therefore, it might seem that CITES parties took unacceptably long (24 years!) to bring forward a resolution on youth engagement. But better late than never!
At CoP17, CYNESA was proud to be among the very few youth organizations that were represented at the meeting, with a dynamic team of five delegates from Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. We are certainly intent on building on this experience, taking advantage of the CoP17 resolution that “invites Parties and the CITES Secretariat to work with universities, youth groups, and other relevant associations and organizations, to create educated and engaged youth networks that can inform and influence conservation decisions”.
Hopefully the engagement of youth will translate into concrete conservation gains, for wild flora and fauna, but also for communities. As Pope Francis says in Laudato Si, “Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better world, without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.”
Let us hope that young people will make a positive difference in caring for our common home.
Founding Executive Director, CYNESA.