Speak up for children at Rio+20 Earth summit

Rachel Hall was part of a Unicef UK group that prepared a list of priorities that young people want to be taken up at the summit. She explains what they expect from world leaders.

Like many young people, I take the things most politicians say with a large pinch of salt. But I was genuine impressed by Caroline Spelman, the secretary of state for environment, when I met her on Thursday. I believed her when she pledged to speak for children at the Rio+20 Earth summit this month.



Spelman had come to attend the final discussion session in a day-long event at the Science Museum in London. The event – Your world, your future, your voice – brought together over 30 young people aged between 12 and 21 to discuss the key issues we want addressed by world leaders at the Rio summit. We were joined by environment and sustainability experts including co-author of the Stern Review, Dimitri Zenghelis.

Waking up Thursday morning in Sheffield, I had little idea what the day would hold. That afternoon I found myself sitting beside Spelman and telling her the main issues that had come out of our discussions over the course of the day. I told her that it is important not to forget that as a species we are a part of nature, not disconnected from it. Children have had no hand in the current global challenges caused by humanity but bear the daily brunt of their consequences. Therefore, prioritising children at the Rio is not only morally just, it is also critical for improving their lives today and in the future.

The event provided young people a platform to voice their views and priorities directly to the environment secretary who, alongside the deputy prime minister, will represent the UK at Rio.

The discussion focussed on water, the fundamental resource for humanity. There were presentations on water sanitation, consumption and how to increase global access to safe water and its sustainable use. A workshop and debate followed, resulting in specific priorities regarding water for the Rio summit. There was an overwhelming desire from the youth to have their voice heard at Rio.

Throughout the discussion Spelman emphasised the nature of the UK’s climate change policy. But what resonated clearer still was her genuine desire to do her best for young people. She said that her own children were a constant reminder of her responsibility to future generations at Rio. On behalf of Unicef UK, I presented her the signatures of more than 5,000 people who want her and Nick Clegg to speak up for children at Rio.

But Rio+20 is a conference on sustainable development in a political atmosphere. So how can it create lasting solutions? Environmental journalist and author Simon Reeve said that political pressure and passion demonstrated by young people today will be critical in emphasising the long-term perspectives of policy decisions, and strong leadership by the government will be essential to initiate change.

I was overwhelmed by the passion, knowledge and awareness of young people on global issues threatening our planet, their desire to bring about social change, increase the sustainable use of natural resources and put in place a more equitable system of resource use between developed and developing nations. But ultimately it is the individual choices that we make that will collectively bring about the change critical to humanity’s survival on Earth.


Article originally appeared in The Guardian

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