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Kehkashan Basu Headshot

The Annual Youth Assembly at the United Nations Ambassadors

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Robert Swan, the intrepid explorer and environmentalist, once famously said that the "greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it." This apathy is the crux of the problem that faces our planet today. The future belongs to us children. We constitute more than one-third of the global population and in most developing nations, we are almost half the national population. Yet, we are amongst the most marginalized sections of civil society and within this group, gender bias and age old social customs causes even greater hardship to the girl child.

I am 13 years-old and was born on June 5, which is also World Environment Day and thus I feel that it was pre-ordained that I should grow up to be an eco-warrior and work to abolish this apathy and take the lead. For the past six years, since I was eight, I have been striving to change mindsets and stereotypes, in this world run by adults, about children's ability and responsibilities and have tried to voice my opinions and that of my stakeholder group of children and youth at the international arena. It has not been easy because my age has caused a lot of shut doors, but for every barrier there has been a catalyst which has helped me to move forward. My work has resulted in me being elected as the global coordinator for Children and Youth UNEP's Major Groups Facilitating Committee. I am the youngest person and the only minor ever to hold this post in the history of UNEP. My election into this position has, I think, been a very important milestone in removing the age bias that children have been facing till date. I am now the youth advisor for World Future Council, a volunteer at the World Youth Foundation and the global president for the Children's Board for Plant-for-the-Planet.

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 Millennium Development Goals 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? This must change.

The decisions that all of us make today will definitely impact and decide what the world looks like in the future. 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 energy needs of our planet and its 7 billion residents are increasing every day. Fossil fuels are going to run out one day leaving behind a smog filled environment which we will choke on. It's about time nations stopped subsidies on fossil fuels and used them instead to develop commercially viable clean energy delivery mechanisms. Natural energy sources are abundantly available, they are clean, the technology for harnessing it has been developed -- all it requires is the economic drive and an awareness about its benefits amongst civil society. These changes can determine the future of our planet but will not see the light of day without proper legislation to drive it. One therefore requires the immediate institutionalization of Ombudspersons or Green Guardians at an international, regional and local level to ensure that the rights of future generations and those of the present are not abused as a result of economic gains and political shortsightedness. The future generations cannot survive on history, they need the same pristine resources that we enjoy today

Unfortunately time is not on our side. Every hour, every day, a multitude of species are being pushed to the threshold of extinction, children are dying of hunger while one third of the world's food production rots in warehouses, millions of homes are without power while the sun's rays mock down at us for not possessing the willingness to harness its strength, and the world watches mutely as girls get shot at for asking for something as fundamental as the right to go to school. It's time for us to shrug off this apathy and make efforts to turn back the clock before it's too late.

I will leave you with the words of Mother Teresa "Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin."