It’s a long road to Rio…

As I write this I am on my flight back to Geneva, the city I currently call home, trying to find a way to sum up exactly how I feel about Rio+20 and the past week. To begin with I am absolutely exhausted it has been a really tense long week, and things really are not going well for the Rio process. But despite that I am also leaving re-inspired, in the past week I have, spoken to businessmen, diplomats, activists and youth from around the world and it was the youth from the Major Group of Children and Youth (MGCY) that gave me some optimism back about world affairs.

It would be really easy to leave New York feeling disillusioned with the whole process, in two weeks they have only managed to agree on 21 paragraphs (admittedly much of the health language is agreed upon) despite debating all day from 10am-10pm. In addition most of the debate is repetitive and basically revolving around defining what the role of the state and the private sector is. Although I have my views on this, there are many different models out there and I personally feel the debate should not be constantly getting stuck on this, you are not going to agree on a common political philosophy at the UN.  If you think it was just me getting annoyed at this one of the co-chairs stated ‘we can’t go on like this’ it is clear tensions are running high and people are getting frustrated.

One of the concepts that is most controversial is the idea of technology transfer with regular insertions and deletions of the phrase voluntary or mutually agreed upon. The G77 (a bloc of over 100 low and middle income countries) want guaranteed tech transfer to develop sustainability, the US, EU and Canada, wish to protect their countries businesses and promote innovation. This is an area where potentially the health sector can contribute; a lot of work has been done on patent pools, prize funds and other ideas to promote innovation in pharmaceuticals (TRIPs and Doha were actually introduced to the health section by G77). These ideas could be extrapolated to other business models ensuring that access to green technologies is easily available to countries that cannot afford them yet innovation is rewarded ensuring that developing countries are able to develop without having to rely on old fossil fuel technologies.

Health in itself has become less controversial it is mostly agreed upon and Russia even introduced a paragraph on road accidents in sustainable transport, G77 introduced the idea of health impact assessments for new technologies (something we pushed hard for and can claim some responsibility for its inclusion). The problem with the health language and the text as a whole is it’s not ‘action orientated’ it will at the current rate produce a weak document achieving little.

Now that my ranting is over I though I’d mention a few of the positive aspects and talk about the amazing work of the MGCY and how those in the health community can move things forward. The IFMSA at these meetings as young professionals group straddles the gap between NGOs and MGCY, but as youth tend to be a bit more dynamic we sit with them. This meeting despite there being only a very small number of young people in attendance a lot was achieved. NYC youth organised NY+20 a youth event which set out their vision for the future they wanted a set of commitments as young people.  Although I could not attend the event itself I attended a side event discussing it where I heard two of the most inspiring speakers I have heard in a long time. Elisabeth Thompson executive coordinator of the conference discussed the role of youth and her higher education sustainability initiative something I implore all of you to push your university to sign up to. In addition to this I came across Dr Josephine Ojiambo Kenya’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN who is a physician by training and was really encouraging of our role as medical students in sustainable development at a chat I had with her after (see the video here). Both speakers talked about the critical role youth have to play and indeed raised the point that although we live in troubled times crises present an opportunity for new and innovative thinkers to sign post solutions and that is what we must do.

I could spend ages listing all the amazing accomplishments of MGCY at these talks but I am not going to have time. Meeting with the EU, Norwegian and Bolivian governments and holding them to account on issues young people care about. Trying to ensure meaningful youth participation in the UN system in particular around sustainable development or calling for an ombudsperson for future generations, to ensure long term thinking in the UN system. As you can see youth from all over the world are already doing their part to ensure the future they want, I call on you as medical students to do your part and ensure that future is a healthy one.

Things you can do:

  • Learn more about sustainable development such as by joining the IFMSA/WHO webinar on health and sustainable development this Thursday via the following link
  • Call for the Higher education sustainability initiative at your university
  • Engage with the IFMSA campaign on Rio+20 to be launched later this week
  • Contribute by making commitments in your own country towards sustainability and greening the health sector and call on your Minister of Health to make sure the health sector too makes voluntary commitments at Rio

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