Requiem for a Generation

This was written by Imran Battla and I during the UN Commission on Sustainable Development in New York for the SustainUS Blog

We just finished meeting with the head of the CSD-17 State Department Delegation John Matuszak as part of the U.S. Government Listening Session. One of the questions we asked him pertained to the role of U.S. youth in the State Department Delegation. We know that there had previously been a youth on the delegation but due to controversy that position had been eliminated. John told us they would “review that recommendation.”

While the response was slightly disappointing, it provoked a sense of reflection on what we feel our role to be. We’ve been thinking about the difference between a participant and an observer during these negotiations. To some extent we are participants; as one of the major groups and part of the Youth Caucus, we’ve been working with youth around the world to draft our principles and suggestions to the negotiating text. And yet, sometimes it seems as though we are participating in a process that is not directly translatable to the issues that we care about.

Sit in the room of one of the major group sessions and you’ll understand what we mean. The time and labor that goes into such nuances as the difference between “recognizing that this calls for” and “calling for” seem to have little to do with the roughly 2 billion people that still live on less than a dollar a day. Can the well fed members of the Roundtable on the Food Crisis truly comprehend the mass starvation occurring as they sit in the nicely sunlight UN café?

Diplomats are limited by the interests of their countries and their own bureaucratese. Youth are limited by our understanding of the process and ability to influence it. Many of the youth in CSD-17 are action-oriented but we are not policy wonks. These factors create a myopic vision that fails to see the interconnectedness of issues.

What happens in the world affects all of us on many different levels. Perhaps when we combine these different perspectives of bureaucratic expertise and passion for action we are able to get things done. In our meeting with the Chair of CSD-17, she told us to never underestimate our collective youth power.

Diplomats, civil society and lobbying groups (such as youth) spend so much time engaging in a process that does little to address the needs and concerns of those who are most vulnerable in our society. CSD-17 produces what is referred to as “soft law” meaning that governments don’t have to implement any of the things they write unless people like us hold them accountable for it. Let’s make sure this process is not in vain.

These policies aren’t useful unless we find a way to implement them. Read the text of CSD-17. If there is something you care about, write a letter. Remind your representatives what they agreed to do.