One Young World
One Young World

If COP17 has to do with survival, why aren’t more people interested?

By Karuna Rana

For those in the climate-change arena, the yearly UN climate-change negotiations remain an important event. The Copenhagen Summit in 2009 was a massive let-down. Last year, Cancun was unexpectedly hopeful and, this year, the climate-change negotiations have arrived to Durban, South Africa. COP17 is perhaps more crucial than previous meetings as the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. The Kyoto Protocol is the only international legally-binding treaty we have for our survival. So when world leaders convene to decide the future of our planet, why shouldn’t we all be interested? Or more specifically, why aren’t more Mauritians interested?

A minuscule number of people know about the existence of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate (UNFCCC), let alone what a COP is or why it is so significant. Given the decisions being made this week to guarantee the survival of humanity, it is unfortunate that communities with the most at stake are also often those who are most underrepresented.

Those who at least know of the UNFCCC meetings have a misconception that it is only world leaders who attend and make decisions, and that “normal” people could never get involved in such a complicated and bureaucratic process. But, in actual fact, civil-society participation often exceeds that of government delegations. In 2009 alone, civil-society delegates outnumbered government officials by 13 482 to 10 591 respectively. This year, once again, young people make up a big number of the civil-society delegation. They are working hard to protect their future and that of future generations — for almost 18 hours every day and on a voluntary basis.

In Mauritius, however, youth are not working hard to safeguard their futures, let alone those of upcoming generations. Not because they do not care, but because the majority are unaware of the adverse effects of climate change. Our formal education system fails to integrate a sense of responsibility towards the environment into the mind-set of each citizen. The lack of opportunities for youth participation in decision-making processes across the country limits what young people think is possible. Mainstream media does not sufficiently cover environmental issues preferring to focus on tantalising infotainment stories. Our current society sees environmentalism as an “uncool” and boring topic. All these things contribute to our nation’s collective lack of understanding of environmental issues. How can we change that?

Environmental action is a mixture of immediate actions such as energy efficiency or tree conservation and behavioural change — the latter being more difficult to achieve. Behavioural change is a slow but necessary process to solving the issue of climate change. Behavioural change is not feasible without instilling environmental awareness values at a young age. Primary education in Mauritius is compulsory and this makes it an ideal platform to actively engage and educate young people.

Physical education and moral values are compulsory subjects, yet wide-ranging environmental ones are not. It is important to teach children healthy lifestyle habits and how to be good citizens. It is equally important to iterate that their responsibilities extend beyond their neighbours to the planet as well.

Education for sustainable development is a (new) concept that integrates environmental protection with social and economic growth education. The ministry of education has highlighted its commitment towards mainstreaming comprehensive sustainability programmes across the nation by 2020.

In a time when Mauritius is already facing the effects of climate change and the need for active climate leadership is more pressing than ever — can we wait any longer?

Building a sustainability generation requires a combination of formal and non-formal education. Long-term educational reform is time consuming and financially intensive, Mauritian youth cannot just wait until 2020, we require access to non-formal programmes, such as skills and capacity-building workshops and hands-on environmental activities, now. Such opportunities should not be limited to people of a certain age or scientific backgrounds.

If project Maurice Ile Durable is to transform Mauritius into the global standard for being a sustainable island, investment will have to be made in the youth who will lead this vision until 2028 and beyond. And that needs to happen now.

Karuna Rana (23) from Mauritius is the One Young World Ambassador Leader for Environment. She is also a contributor to Speak Your Mind and is currently covering the UN climate-change negotiations in Durban, South Africa.

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