Building peace in the minds of men and women

Giving young people a voice to shape their territories

19 September 2017


Photo by Christian Leone

Over 300 young people from 95 countries are gathered in the Po Delta Biosphere Reserve (Italy) to take leadership in the sustainable development of their environments. They either live or work in a biosphere reserve, areas that are committed to developing solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. They are participating in the 2017 MAB Youth Forum, which aims to give them a voice in shaping the future of their territories and defining their engagement in their biosphere reserves.  

The forum began on Monday with a discussion on biosphere reserves’ contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and a workshop on telling the story of territories through illustration and testimonies. “We are here all throughout the week, to listen to your ideas and your visions of how to work together, to take forward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Agreement, to build a better future for all” said UNESCO Director General, Irina Bokova, in her message to the young participants. “My only appeal to you is to be bold. The challenges we face are big -- we need to think big to overcome them, and we need to do this together, because I see partnership, truly, as the new leadership.

Malena Heinrup led a discussion on how biosphere reserves can contibute to the 2030 Agenda. Photo by Gianluca CostantiniCreating job opportunities for young people in order to bring innovation to biosphere reserves and retain youth is important to the participants, who shared their priorities and needs ahead of the forum to shape the programme. In her welcome remarks, the Undersecretary of the Italian ministry of the Environment and Protection of Land and Sea, Barbara Degani, highlighted the potential of sustainable tourism to create jobs. This sector has grown by 76% last year in Italy, where 15 biosphere reserves have been established. “There is a need to diversify and create new services”, she continued. “In this process young people can make a difference, for example through digital tools and social media. We have great expectations for the forum’s outcomes about this topic. We know that it is a challenge, but it should be faced without fear.”

Other priorities include youth engagement in civil society, and the links between research and management practices. Together, they will exchange ideas and experiences on how communities an sustainably interact with their land and nature, creating jobs and livelihoods without endangering the environment and natural resources, taking advantage of green economy opportunities, strengthening resilience to climate change, and sharing responsibilities and benefits among all people involved.

You have heard the call to action launched by the Sustainable Development Goals and are here, as youth representatives or concerned citizens from all over the planet, ready to discuss in concrete terms what your engagement with UNESCO, the MAB programme and the Biosphere Reserves could and should be in the future,” observed UNESCO’s Assistant Director General for the Natural Sciences, Flavia Schlegel. “You are part of a large family. Biosphere reserves are home to about 240 million people, in 120 countries, and cover a surface roughly equivalent to that of China. It is a large and diverse network, one of hope, resilience and reconciliation.”

Group discussion during the 2017 MAB Youth Forum. Photo by Christian LeoneThe youth representatives were warmly welcomed by the local community of the Po Delta Biosphere Reserve and representatives of the Veneto and Emilia Romagna regional governments. More than 25 young volunteers from the Po Delta and other parts of Italy are helping the organizers in making the forum possible. The forum is organized by UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere programme (MAB), UNESCO’s Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe based in Venice and the Po Delta Biosphere Reserve, under the auspices of the Italian Ministries of the Environment and Protection of Land and Sea; of Foreign Affairs; of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism; and of Education, Universities and Research. It counts with the support of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Padova e Rovigo, the Veneto and Emilia-Romagna Regional Governments and the PiùInForma association.

The forum is organized as part of UNESCO’s efforts to ensure that young women and men are engaged in policies and programmes affecting them, and lead action to promote peace and sustainable development in their countries and communities. It is the first MAB Youth Forum. A delegation will come to Paris in October 2017 to present the main outcomes of this meeting to the participants of the UNESCO Youth Forum.