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Why it is high time for young people to get involved in sustainable development!

The second decade of the 21st century witnessed an unprecedented convergence of the originally independent streams of sustainable development.

Suddenly, but not unexpectedly, ecological, social and economic problems began to occur simultaneously and at an unparalleled pace.

First of all, the environmental and climate movement regained momentum from the "trauma of Copenhagen" and it is more needed than ever. With carbon emissions reaching an all-time high in 2010, the 2° degrees target continues to move out of reach. At the same time, the loss of biodiversity continues at an alarming rate and the worlds' oceans are facing severe damages from acidification. In short, environmental concerns are more topical than ever.Rio20

Secondly, it seemed that the financial crisis of 2008 put social issues on the back burner but then they re-emerged in 2011 with an unseen velocity and intensity. From Madrid to Morocco, from Portland to Port Said tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest against social inequality. Not surprisingly, young people spearheaded these movements in light of the rising levels of global youth unemployment.

Last but not least, the Eurozone crisis put an often-ignored issue centre stage: unimaginable sovereign debts, which will shrink future generations' room to manoeuvre on fundamental issues like climate change and youth unemployment. Debt brakes, sovereign bonds and central banks are, of course, subjects that are not easy to grasp and also not very appealing for youth. By the same token it is not straightforward to build a campaign around these themes. Nonetheless, they are issues as critical as social inequality or ecological harms.

In June, the international community will convene in Rio at a critical juncture in the world's history to tackle these issues. Will the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (or Rio+20) be remembered for more of the same old habits which put intergenerational equity and even humanity's mere existence at risk? Or will Rio+20 break with business as usual and come up with transformatives that will answer the question of how more than 9 billion people by 2050 can live in a sustainable manner.

Now it is up to us as youth to seize this unique window of opportunity and connect the dots between the social, ecological and economic dimension and make intergenerational equity the lodestar of policy-making. If we as the ‘moral stakeholders of tomorrow' don't act today we will have no stakes left when we are finally in the driving seat.

What is necessary to transform the ‘moral stakeholders' in agents of change?

From my personal experience, there are three key points to enabling meaningful youth involvement.

First and foremost, all politics is local. It may sound like an overused phrase but it still holds true for sustainable development. In particular, young people's engagement starts with local action and then continues at the national or global level.

The second point, which, in my opinion, is pivotal, is empowering young people. This is a two-fold process. On the one hand, it is necessary to empower youth to participate in political processes. On the other hand, they are empowered through participation. The most important perquisite for meaningful empowerment is information and experience. It is crucial to equip young people with the tools to survive in the jungle of endless conferences and meetings.

The third aspect I want to highlight is encouragement. The lion share of young people care about their future and are keen to tackle the most pressing societal problems. However, only a few are involved in sustainable development. What is the reason for this nexus?
The perceptions of many young people are that their actions cannot and will not change the course of the world. It is this very idea thatwe need to change and tell them that involvement matters.

The upcoming Earth Summit is our opportunity to make young voices heard and bring the big picture of sustainable development to the top of the political agenda!

Marian Schreier