The first Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity – also known as the “Biodiversity COP” – took place in the Bahamas in the late autumn of 1994. Almost thirty years later, young people are involved more than ever in this policy space, through the official coordination platform for youth in these negotiations, the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN). Most of the members of the European Chapter of GYBN were not even born back in 1994. And yet, as the environmental community is preparing for the COP 15, the biodiversity crisis remains as challenging and relevant as ever and GYBN continues to play a key role in this arena in representing the world’s youth.
While the media silence about the climate crisis has started to break, although still vastly underreported. Information about the status of the biodiversity crisis and the efforts to address it remain scarce. Even when biodiversity issues are reported, the decoupling of the facets of the environmental crises from one another, and the detachment of their impacts on our livelihoods, as well as arguments that paint biodiversity science (and policy) as complicated, are creating an infertile ground for attracting people’s interest. Meanwhile young people are on the frontline of demanding for environmental justice, yet remain excluded from the policy debate.
European biodiversity policy in a nutshell
In the policy working group of GYBN Europe, we decided to jump head-first into this debate. 18 months, hundreds of volunteer hours, and dozens of young experts are behind the first-ever youth-led biodiversity policy booklet. Destination 2030 attempts to break the stereotype of complexity and provide a useful tool to support youth’s interaction with Europe’s biodiversity policy. Based on the renowned Sustainable Development Goals’ cake model, we have chosen 10 topics related to biodiversity: four at the biosphere level (freshwater, ecosystem restoration, nature-based solutions, and agriculture), four at the societal level (gender, education, urban ecosystems, and renewable energy), and two at the economic level (trade and economy & finance).
For each brief, we outlined a problem, analyzed the current strategies aimed at tackling the said issue, and complemented it with our perspectives and proposed actions. The pillars upon which the booklet is based are two: building on the GYBN International priorities and commenting on the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030. The latter will be the focus of the environmental sector in the European continent for the upcoming decades, thus we wanted to align as much as possible our solutions with this potentially transformative strategy, enhancing their implementation potential.
Young people deserve a seat at the negotiating table
Youth is often perceived as an inspirational force at best or as a monolithic group constantly enraged against the older generations at worst. We are often thought of as being incapable of producing viable options for the future and easily dismissed with condescending words or side-lined at public events. The youth-led demonstrations and strikes calling for a better world have contributed to creating momentum for environmental action, but have not led to a concrete improvement of the status quo that aggravates the planetary crisis.
To be bluntly honest, we do not understand this. Even if we do not sit at the negotiation tables at the highest political level, most of us vote or will vote for those politicians to represent us. Even if we do not determine which sectors will benefit from financial subsidies, our collective consumer power helps shape the future of those sectors. Even if we are only partly joining efforts on the ground, we will be the ones implementing projects in the future. Listening to the youth makes political, societal, and financial sense.
We cannot continue to share our vision of the future in the streets without also commenting and working on policies that outline how we want to get there in the institutional buildings. This booklet is aimed at exactly that: encouraging young people to better understand policies and inviting policy makers to genuinely work with youth for policy formation.
This booklet is out - now what?
We are aware of our power and of our influence. We want to harness this power for the better, to help all generations in developing a just and prosperous world. The work started by the environmental trailblazers of the past is our basis and we want to build on these efforts for the generations to come. Only together will we be able to enact the necessary and radically transformative change.
We do not have the presumptuousness to claim that what is outlined in this policy booklet is the ultimate or only way forward for the landscapes of Europe. This collection of policy briefs is our contribution to the biodiversity debate. We expect the experts across all fields to criticize us, challenge us, interact with us, teach us, mentor us and most importantly create spaces where we can actually contribute to the biodiversity discussion. We invite everyone to use these policy briefs as a way to catch a glimpse of young people’s vision for the future and as the basis for a broader dialogue.
And to our fellow young people, we know the time to act is now: young people everywhere are coming together across sectors and borders not to preserve the world as it is now, but to dismantle the oppressive systems that fuel the environmental crisis. And this is the best chance we have. We all want to live in harmony with nature while leaving no one behind, let us jointly take the first step towards this direction.
Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.