Nairobi — Actions to cut food waste and to harness the power of social media to promote sustainable lifestyles are among the issues on the agenda at a major United Nations youth meeting on the environment which opens in Nairobi, Kenya, today.
The 2013 TUNZA International Youth Conference on the Environment will see some 250 youth delegates from over 100 countries will examine ways in which global youth can directly tackle today's most pressing environmental issues, and encourage their peers to take action.
The week-long event is organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Links between human health and environmental degradation are the main themes of the conference.
Today, around 60 per cent of ecosystem services are degraded, which negatively impacts on access to clean water, food, and sanitation that are essential for good health.
Exposure to unsafe chemicals and the inhalation of indoor smoke from inefficient cookstoves are among other key environmental factors linked to illness.
According to UN studies, such factors contribute to a larger proportion of illness in children and young people compared to the population as a whole.
At the TUNZA conference, UNEP experts will hold workshops, panel discussions and other events with young people to present the latest science on health impacts of environmental degradation. Other sessions will cover water, sustainable consumption, green entrepreneurship, and new international targets that are set to succeed the Millennium Development Goals from 2015.
Launch of GEO-5 for Youth
The opening ceremony of the conference also saw the launch of a new youth-edited publication, Tunza Acting for a Better World: GEO-5 for Youth, which showcases innovative sustainable development projects run by young people around the world.
From a 'green' community radio station in Cameroon, to a project in Nicaragua making durable building materials from waste, GEO-5 for Youth highlights simple, low-cost solutions which can be replicated in communities elsewhere.
The publication incorporates key findings from the UNEP Global Environment Outlook (GEO-5) - the UN's most comprehensive environmental assessment - in order to equip young readers with the latest science-based information on the current state of the global environment, including climate change, air quality, biodiversity, land use, and other areas.
"GEO-5 for Youth shows that young people are trailblazers when it comes to new, creative solutions to the world's most critical environmental challenges," Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, told youth delegates at the opening ceremony of the conference.
"In order to follow this example, and to ensure a fair share of the world's resources for all, governments, industry, and others must also commit to firm actions that can place the world on a more sustainable path. Through the TUNZA Conference, young people can deliver a clear message that, paradoxically, while time is running out, actions already underway across the globe hold the promise of delivering an inclusive Green Economy, green jobs and a sustainable century if accelerated and scaled-up," added Mr. Steiner.
GEO-5 for Youth was edited by a three-member team of young environmentalists, with case studies, photographs and other contributions being submitted by members of UNEP's TUNZA youth network across the globe.
"This book is not just about the environment or its problems - it is also about acting for change together," said the GEO-5 for Youth editorial team.
"Its aim is to show that there is hope and that successes are happening every day. We all have a responsibility to implement sustainable solutions that will protect our future and that of coming generations. We can no longer wait for someone else to fix things for us."
Initiatives featured in GEO-5 for Youth include a project by two young siblings from the USA, Adarsha Shivakumar and Apoorva Rangan. Concerned by the depletion of natural resources in their grandparents' home region of India, the brother and sister team founded 'Project Jatropha' to promote sustainable alternatives to tobacco cultivation, which was contributing to deforestation and carbon emissions through the burning of large amounts of leaves.
The project introduced the Jatropha plant as an eco-friendly bio fuel and cash crop to replace large-scale tobacco cultivation. The project purchased 13,000 Jatropha seedlings and distributed them to a few dozen local farmers. Once the plants had grown, oil from the fruit was extracted at a nearby plant, and sold to local customers.
The plant provides an income for subsistence farmers, but without the heavy ecological footprint associated with tobacco growing. Over 20,000 additional tree saplings were also planted by local schoolchildren as part of the project.
GEO-5 for Youth also explains the main decisions and commitments made by world leaders at last year's Rio+20 summit, and how young people can play their part in promoting sustainable development and tackling poverty.
In the 'Change Countdown' chapter, GEO-5 for Youth lays out a variety of actions, from '1 second' activities such as turning off unneeded lights, '1 week' actions like increasing personal transport use, through to '1 year' projects such as designing a low-carbon, resource-efficient lifestyle.
UNEP Governing Council
The TUNZA Conference takes place a week before environment ministers from across the world will gather for the UNEP Governing Council.
Following a resolution by the UN General Assembly in December 2012 to upgrade and strengthen UNEP, all UN member and observer states will participate at the 2013 UNEP Governing Council for the first time.
The General Assembly resolution also underlined the need for youth, women, indigenous peoples, and other interest groups to be integrated more closely in global environmental decision-making overall.
Representatives from the TUNZA Youth Advisory Council will attend the Governing Council to ensure that youth perspectives on the most pressing environmental challenges are conveyed to world governments.