Achieving global sustainability: The Elders in conversation with young global leaders

PAI Atlas Fellow, Esther Agbarakwe meets with the Elders in Oslo. Photo Credit: Jeff Moore | The Elders

Nelson Mandela once said that, ‘‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.” The world has been discussing sustainable development way before I was born. Now we have a chance to set our feet on the ground, to unite our voice, and take things more seriously. No more “business as usual” – not with 7 billion people on earth and many still living in poverty.

Last week, I traveled to Oslo, Norway to join a team of amazing global leaders who have dedicated their time to making the world a safer and sustainable place to live. I was invited as one of four “Youngers” to meet with The Elders, an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights. Our job is to call on the heads of government, and all individuals, to begin urgent dialogue on sustainable development.

At a panel titled Achieving Global Sustainability – The Elders in Conversation with Young Global Leaders, I joined Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Chair of The Elders; Gro Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and member of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Sustainability Panel and Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Elders reaffirmed the need to strongly consider the social dimension of sustainable development: poverty, food security, and women’s access to voluntary family planning. Women’s’ and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights is about equality, and women play an important role in development. Gro Bruntdland asked: “What about a world run by women?”

Then it was time for the “Youngers” to present their vision for “The Future We Want.” For me, when I think about the kind of world I want for my great, great grandchildren, my heart is heavy. I reflect on what is happening around us, how women suffer so much to take care of their children, how many women badly want to space their children, how they want the right to determine how and when to have children without losing their lives in the process.

We have overly exaggerated the promise of our children’s future. We tell them they “are the future” without explaining in concrete terms what that means. We don’t provide the ecological, social and financial order and discipline that will result in a better world.

What does the future that I want look like? I want a world where girls have to right to school first before marriage. A world with equality for women and girls, where young people are consulted and truly involved in governance process at local, national and global levels.

This is what I want from the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) next month in Rio. This is the vision that I asked the Elders to extend to heads of country delegations during Rio+20.

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