Taylor Zhou and Jelena Kiselova with British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg

Taylor Zhou and Jelena Kiselova with British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who met the delegates in Rio

Taylor Zhou and Jelena Kiselova with British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg

Andrew Picken OBE, co-leader of the British Council delegation to Rio+20, writes about last month’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development and about ten inspirational young activists and entrepreneurs from around the world who took part.

As heads of state and opinion leaders gathered in Rio for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development last month, ten social entrepreneurs and environmental activists from the British Council’s Global Changemakers, E-idea and Climate Generation programmes debated how to influence the negotiations and the draft of the Conference agreement.

”How can we make them really listen to us,” asked Taylor Zhou, a Chinese researcher at a laboratory in Berkeley, California. ”I’m a science geek. I study appliance efficiency. How can I make them take actions instead of just talk?”

”You have to show your passion and your ideas,” answered Matias Kalwill, the founder of an innovative campaign to promote bicycling which aims to have 51% of all personal trips take place via bicycle by 2030.

”And show businesses how they can make money from green economy projects,” said Jinhwa Kim, the CEO of Orgdot, a Korean company that promotes ethical fashion.

”And also give them ideas for what’s working at the local government level,” added Welsh community activist Jessica McQuade.

Hailing from nine countries and selected on the basis of their leadership skills and innovative eco-solutions, the delegates gathered in Rio, with the support of LRQA, to bring their ideas and expertise to the negotiations.

They included a sustainable building consultant from the UK; a member of the Climate Change Commission for Wales; a campaigner for the Polar Regions from Canada; a member of Sri Lanka’s official Rio youth delegation; a Brazilian researcher working in the Amazon and the founders of several social enterprises promoting sustainable solutions.

Following the Conference with them was fascinating.

When Rio+20 began, few observers expected it would end with an agreement. Twenty years earlier, the original Earth Summit had set up the frameworks on climate change, biodiversity and desertification, but since 1992 nearly all environmental indicators have deteriorated, and this year the various blocks were mutually suspicious.

The major areas of discussion included the transition to a green economy, stronger institutions to ensure agreements are honoured, and mechanisms to fund the green economy, especially in developing countries.

Surprisingly, the Brazilian hosts were able to secure an agreement, but it is weak. It contains the word ‘encourage’ 50 times, the word ‘support’ 99 times, but the expression ‘we will’ just five times.

The most important outcome is the concept, promoted by Colombia, of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), modelled on the Millennium Development Goals, which have galvanised the world community.

For our team,Riowas a powerful opportunity to learn from each other, influence a world process and share ideas about the green economy. Yes, the agreement was weak, but it is extraordinary that 190 countries signed a text promoting sustainable development.

“Rio+20 event is an excellent moment for strengthening networks and promote initiatives towards a more inclusive and sustainable economy. As nothing comes up from our governments, we must do it by ourselves,” said Brazilian researcher Pedro Soares.

By sending these outstanding delegates to the summit, we hope to foster next generation leadership. These young activists and entrepreneurs will leverage the knowledge, contacts and experiences gained atRioto enhance their projects, work internationally, and communicate what they have learned to vast audiences in their countries.