Kirsty Schneeberger, Stakeholder Forum
This issue of Outreach highlights the critical importance of oceans – 70% of the earth – in maintaining the dynamic equilibrium between our ecosystems that support the flourishing of life itself in all its forms. We now face challenges at multiple fronts, from sustaining aquaculture and marine life, to the relationship between energy generation and oceans and how to responsibly explore these options; as well as responding to the multiple stresses that the oceans are under.
In addition to all of the above factors, we acknowledge the need to respect the services that oceans offer us. Respect is borne out of an understanding and appreciation of the significant role of someone, or something, in our lives; and so it is that for millennia people have understood that whilst they are able to fish for food that sustains them, so it is that they must be sustainable in the way that they fish. In applying this fundamental approach to fishing practices, people have been able to ensure that, to use a turn of phrase, there will always be plenty more fish in the sea.
But with the rate of overfishing irresponsibly increasing, we are no longer paying the oceans the respect it deserves, nor are we respecting our responsibilities to future generations to ensure fishstocks do not decline as rapidly as they currently are. Young people now have something to say about this, and would like the Rio+20 process to hear their concerns.
Almost a year ago, on 24th May 2011, a gathering of 5 – 20 year olds converged on the famous London department store – Selfridges - as part of an event that marked the launch of the 'intergenerational contract' between themselves and policy and law makers in the area of fisheries.
Teaming up with organisations such as the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Marine Conservation Society and Greenpeace, Selfridges put sustainability at the heart of its purchasing practices and launched ‘Project Ocean.’ - transforming its food policies to only buy and sell fish that had been sustainably sourced. It also teamed up with lawyers from Clientearth who worked to develop an intergenerational contract between young people and their leader,s to protect the oceans for future generations. A Declaration of Young People's Rights to a Healthy Planet will also be presented in Rio+20, which calls on leaders to 'bequeath them a healthy ocean'.
The initiative sparked some lively debates about the responsibility that present decision-makers and leaders (especially business leaders) have to the next generation. It is an admirable and compelling example of how lawyers and young people can work together to not only offer current (and future) generations a way to have their voices heard; but to also teach them the rules of a game that is disproportionately exploiting their share of the resources and natural services that the world provides us all and deserves our respect. In so doing, it is hoped that young people will be inspired to step off the side-lines and take part in the game; or better still, perhaps even rewrite the rules themselves.
Amended and updated from the author’s blog for the Environmental Regulation and Information Centre, first published online: http://www.eric-group.co.uk/environmental_regulation_story.php?content_id=248