Guest Contribution

Taking Charge of Our Future

6501bc2e91The global dialogue on charting the future of our planet needs to recognize the aspirations and needs of civil society’s most important stakeholder, children. We children are a very potent force and we are extremely concerned that we are marginalised in the sustainable development dialogue. One third of the global population comprises of people under the age of 18. In the developed world, only about 15% of the population comprises of children, while in many African countries, almost half the population are children.

Rio+20 was a path breaking summit and it was indeed a privilege for me to attend it. What surprised me was that, at 12 years, I was the youngest international participating delegate at Rio+20, amongst the 50,000 delegates. Isn’t this another indication of how poorly youth are represented even at the most important summit on sustainable development in recent times? The Rio+20 outcome document agreed to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals, which will build upon the MDGs and converge with the post 2015 development agenda. The outcome document seeks to establish an “inclusive and transparent intergovernmental process open to all stakeholders”. But is the process really inclusive of children and youth?

The decisions that all of us make today will definitely impact and decide what the world looks like in the future. Just 50 years ago, the Aral Sea was once the fourth biggest inland water body in the world covering an area larger than Switzerland. Yet today it is a smaller than a lake. The world simply stood silent and did nothing while the rivers that fed this water body were diverted for economic benefits. This has been termed as one of the greatest environmental disasters of modern times. It did not happen overnight – yet no one took notice or tried to reverse it.

Our ancestors got it right when they said “Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.” The rights of future generations need to be preserved by today’s inhabitants. The future generations cannot survive on history, they need the same pristine resources that we enjoy today. We simply cannot let economic greed deprive future generations of another Aral Sea.

We therefore urgently call for impartial guardians who can protect the rights of future generations. Intergenerational solidarity and future justice must be at the core of any sustainable development agenda.

A sustainable future can be realized only if the three dimensions of sustainable development work and grow in harmony. The current trend of economic growth at the cost of environment and society must be stopped. The rights that the developed world takes for granted such as the right to education, healthcare, economic opportunity, fair representation without gender bias, access to clean water and shelter, free speech – all these need to be carried forward and ensured for the generations to come. Thus, there is an immediate need to institutionalise the role of Ombudspersons for Future Generations at all levels – local, regional, national and international. This must be a key aspect for the post2015 agenda. The Future Justice that we are looking for needs to be equitable and the same for everybody, irrespective of whether one is from the developed world or the global south. Bishop Desmond Tutu once famously said “I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.”

Environmental apathy must be done away with – we cannot allow another Aral Sea to turn into a desert nor proclaim a river as a dead one and move on to pollute the next one. Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved. We, the youth, have a leadership role to play and mold the future the way we want it.


Kehkashan Basu, UNEP Major Groups Facilitating Committee, Global Coordinator for Children & Youth

Kehkashan Basu, the Youth Advisor for the World Future Council, is a 13 year old environmental and social activist living in the United Arab Emirates whose sole objective is to involve and mobilise children and youth in the movement for a sustainable and green future around the world.

Posted by Future Justice on 9 September 2013