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Caux and the Knights of the Round Table

Caux conference centeHigh up in the Swiss Alps looking over Lake Geneva, I couldn’t but think about “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round table”. Imagine a small group of people, discussing global issues, sharing their experiences from the field rather than just policies, project designs and scientific reports, in an environment inviting them to interact freely. Although I doubt that the outcomes of this conference will be as legendary as Arthur’s tales -nor do I feel particularly knight-like-, I would really recommend all of you to attend one of the Caux Dialogues if you can!

The five day Land, Lives, Peace conference 2014 on Land and Security (30 June - 4 July) is part of a month of Caux Dialogues taking place every summer in Caux, Switzerland. Set in an old, grand hotel, the conference becomes a world of its own: all participants sleep, eat and attend their sessions in the hotel, and are expected to participate in household chores as the hotel is run on voluntary basis, and the conference organized by Initiatives of Change

So what was I doing there? I’m currently working on land degradation and restoration issues at the Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) and this was a good opportunity to expand our network and gather documented field experiences. And secondly, they organized a Youth Session as part of their evening program and invited YPARD to attend.

Summarising the Youth Session

The idea was to have young people in ‘panel’ discussion with Monique Barbut (Exec. Secr. UNCCD), Julia Marton-Lefèvre (DG, IUCN) and Martin Frick (Chair Iniatives Land, Lives, Peace). About 30 young professionals attended, seated with the panelists in a circle of chairs.

  • On questions about the monetization of environmental costs and protection: the panelists main message was that –specific- targets should be set -e.g. for carbon-. Without targets, carbon pricing doesn’t have the effect it could have. When targets are expected to be reached, political pressure drops, which asks for action to raise the bar. We need not just an EU, but a global agreement, as there is little benefit for EU to be ‘best student in class’, and because at the moment ‘we’ -EU- ‘compensate’ our carbon emissions elsewhere.
  • The panel asked us, how we as young people see the world in 2050? I started off by promoting YPARD and addressed the benefits of creating international networking, knowledge sharing etc. Other participants, from their experiences with in grass root level initiatives, expressed their belief in decentralized, bottom-up movements. Other YPs questioned this and discussed about ‘nudging the giants’ -e.g. China, US-, and have them lead the way. Not all agreed, but the conclusion was: important to think about how to get these ‘giants’ -US, EU, China, Russia- to work together instead of pointing fingers in environmental issues.
  • YP from Rwanda expressed his concern for increasing environmental issues in Africa. Where to start? Panel: Unfortunately, as developing countries have to deal with issues that are linked to their status of development, their issues are not always high on the agenda of international politics. Therefore, you can only get attention for specific issues by addressing them through climate change etc. Monique Barbut explained: particularly in Africa, land degradation is not just the result of climate change, but also of lack of women empowerment, bad land tenure legislation, or unsustainable land management. The right incentives and governance have to be put in place.
  • YP from Cameroon on women empowerment. “I'm very concerned about the position of young girls. What do you say to us that want to help other girls?” Panel: Indexes can be a great tool -e.g. the ‘Environmental gender index’ of the IUCN-, as countries hate to see themselves on the bottom of a list. It brings a certain type of awareness. Things are already -slowly- changing and we talk about gender issues, but we are lacking good experiences and examples to discuss with leaders.
  • YP from Kenya - “How can we give corporate organizations corporate responsibility?” Panel: Even multinational corporations put pressure on themselves, having to think of their future business. But there are alternatives to fertilizers: UNCCD registers alternative cultivation practices. Also, they keep the conversation with these corporations going, as millions of farmers depend on them.

“You have to do it! You are the future"

There are several ways to give youth a voice: this youth session offered opportunity for young professionals to ask the questions that concern them and learn from their senior peers. I think it was great to include a youth session organize this Q&A. On the other hand though, as the conference itself already offered plenty opportunity to ask questions to workshop leaders, panelists etc., the added value of this youth meeting could be much higher.

The vibe and setting of Caux offers great opportunity for youth empowerment, and I would love to see their next Youth Session focusing on youth issues specifically, e.g. job opportunities and involvement of YPs, or the role of young farmers in land management; and to discuss these issues with both junior and senior professionals.

On that note, I would like to end quoting one of the young participants: “We want to be passionate in our work, not after work. I started an environmental school for young people, ending up with 5000 members (…) but couldn't get approved as NGO. Similarly, I followed great study programs, but ended up unemployed. We are involved and start-up so many great initiatives but they usually end when university ends. So please help us to create possibilities for our hobbies to become real work.”

Picture credit: Caux Conference Centre, by Martin Baumann.