Sustainable Development


DividerEarth Summit

'My generation has been damned'

The official UNCED plenary ball, bored by days of stiff addresses by government and UN leaders, was stunned by a frank and straightforward speech on behalf of the world 's youths, presented by Wagaki Mwangi. This is what she said.

THE United Nations Conference on Environment and Development deserves commendation for being able to gather over 100 heads of state, not for a state funeral, but the resolution of a world crisis. This is no mean task.

Moreover, UNCED has been recognised as the most democratic process of the United Nations which was created in 1946. Democratic because it has attempted to involve otherwise powerless people of society in the process. But by observing the process we now know how undemocratic and untransparent the UN system is. As youth our vision of a sustainable future is one that empowers people through genuine popular participation, which is ostensibly one of UNCED's recommendations for sustainable development.


Given how little has been achieved since Stockholm, it is evident that the system will not even solve the ecological crisis without itself conforming to popular participation and democracy. Those of us who have watched the process have said that UNCED has failed. As youth we beg to differ. UNCED has been a success for the all-time wielders of power. Transnational corprations, the United States, Japan, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have got away with what they always wanted, carving out a better and more comfortable future for themselves. The bussiness community under the guise of the Business Council for Sustainable Development has succeeded in institutionalising itself as a 'non-governmental organisation'. We believe it is a Sustainable Council for Business Development!

But this is not how the success of UNCED should be measured. It must be assessed from what UNCED set out to do. UNCED's primary objective was to redress the current inequitable power structures that have led to environmental degradation. However, UNCED has ensured increased domination by those who already have power.

Worse still, it has robbed the poorof the little power they had. It has made the poor predators of a market economy that has thus far threatened our planet.

Inequitable consumption patterns are already evident in this process. As youth who constitute 60% of the world's population we haw been given 22 minutes of the official time throughout the UNCED process. This is where chance must begin.

Amidst elaborate cocktails and partying, few negotiators realised how critical their decisions are to our generation. By failing to address fundamental issues such as militarism, regulation of transnational corporations, democratisation of the international aid agencies and inequitable terms of trade, my generation has been damned.


We have been deprived of a world without war; of a community where human beings are slaves to fellow beings; where disease and hunger will be the order of the day. And with 100 heads of state, nobody will stick out their neck on our behalf. Instead, what we hear are ambiguous statements such as 'as far as possible and as is appropriate'. This, ladies and gentlemen, is not the language of the 21 st century. It is the language of the 20th century where consequences of such statements were left unscrutinised. We feel betrayed by governments we had faith in.

Our language is different. At Prepcom 2 we pointed out that development had been left out of the Nonhern dominated agenda and that there was lack of Southern participation. At Prepcom 3 we condemned the United States forblocking negotiations. We also succeeded in lobbying for a youth chapter in Agenda 21. At Prepcom 4 we said that UNCED had moved from being 'the last chance to save the earth' and had become 'the first step towards a slow death.'

Here in Rio, we say that UNCED has failed to safeguard our future unless the NGO Ten-point Plan is adopted.

But we shall not throw in the towel on our future. At the Youth '92 conference in Costa Rica, we decided to respect cultural diversity; reduce our consumption; stage international boycotts on transnational and multinational companies that produce toxic and hazardous products and those that exploit workers. We will share our resources with those who are less privileged. We are committed to this. And unlike what UNCED has displayed, talk without action, we have come through the process by living what we believe.


Most youth laid aside their studies to participate in the process. Most of them have paid their way through their UNCED process, and sometimes even sacrificed their comfort for their colleagues. As I speak there are youth seated in the main hall fasting, in the hope that you will adopt the NGO Ten Point Plan. They have fasted for two days and spent nights in Riocentro to demonstrate their commitment to our common cause.

And in solidarity, youth in the US, Japan and Germany have joined them. This morning, we received news that youth will be protesting in Fiji, Australia, Malaysia and Hong Kong and the number is growing.

This process has been jeopardised by experts who would make us believe that they are carving out a sustainable future for all humanity, while in truth they act in their own self-interest. Is it not arrogant and hypocritical not to heed what we have to say about our own futures? Whose battle are you really fighting? We do not want an unjust world as prescribed by the UNCED process and which we are being socialised into. What we want is an equitable future.

Source: Third World Resurgence, No 24/25, 1992, p.27.