Young EcoMinds Show Strong Undercurrents of Opinion

By Head, Marilyn | Ecos, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Young EcoMinds Show Strong Undercurrents of Opinion


Head, Marilyn, Ecos


Delegates to a United Nations Youth Forum in the Philippines, held during November, have surprised organisers with fervent and sometimes unexpected views of their nations' place in the emerging sustainable practice challenge.

Part of a global partnership between international company Bayer and the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), EcoMinds brought together young scientists and environmentalists from nine countries in the Asia Pacific region to discuss pathways to achieving the seventh UN World Millennium Development Goal: sustainable development.

One of the first actions by Australian youth representatives, endorsed by their colleagues from New Zealand, was a symbolic signing of the Kyoto Protocol on behalf of Australian youth; a reflection of the urgency felt for joint action and cooperation on climate change.

Although this gesture had the approval of the organisers (Bayer's long-term voluntary commitment to the Kyoto Protocol has apparently resulted in the company exceeding the recommended reduction in emission levels, while UNEP's director Klaus Toepfer sees the Protocol as a critical international instrument for addressing global warming), it was not something that resonated strongly with Asian delegates.

General confusion about which countries had agreed to the Protocol, or why some were exempted, as well as ambivalence about the public nature of the protest isolated the gesture rather than making it unanimous, underlining quite stark differences in perspective between Asia and Australasia.

Foremost was the inevitable contrast between the type and scale of the environmental problems that developing Asian countries face--overpopulation, poverty, foreign debt, preventable disease, access to affordable water, power and transport and sustainable waste management--compared with those Australasia faces.

The Chinese delegates, for example, were disturbed by the frequent portrayal of China as the 'great polluter', in spite of the extraordinary steps they say their country has taken to reduce overpopulation, arguably the world's biggest environmental threat.

'We have made a great sacrifice,' said one delegate. 'We live without brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts, but our sacrifice is unacknowledged.'

Another, commenting on the toxic waste from North America and Europe that China, like many developing nations, contends with, asked, 'How can we be expected to find solutions to these problems when countries with far greater resources are not behaving responsibly? …

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