Shaoxin Li is a dreamer.
To be precise, she’s a Dreamer— one of 25 young people chosen and trained to lead the charge to achieve sustainable consumption and production in their communities in their part of the Asia-Pacific under UNEP and SWITCH-Asia’s 4 Billion Dreams (4BD) project.
The project assistant in the UNEP China Office was fascinated to discover that each of her fellow Dreamers, from 23 countries in the Asia-Pacific, had a unique sense of what sustainable consumption and production actually was.
“When I came back to China after the training, I asked this question of many different people, including a farmer, a student and an entrepreneur, and they all had a different understanding of a sustainable lifestyle,” she muses.
The farmer had been delighted to discover that the way she farmed, without pesticides, fertiliser or other chemical materials already qualified as being sustainable.
“For her, sustainability meant farming organically and leading a happy, healthy life with her family,” Li explains.
This broadness of definition is not surprising. “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns” is the 12th Sustainable Development Goal, but SCP is actually thickly woven into 14 of the 16 SDGs1 and the Paris Agreement on climate change, which all governments have agreed will guide their decision-making.
Clearly, every single aspect of our lives— every city, industry, profession, workplace, sector, retail chain, government, home, town and person— will need to have SCP at its core or top-of-mind: doing more with less, and ensuring that from cradle to grave, every product we use and how we produce and consume it neither drains nor pollutes the complex natural resource system on which we rely for life itself.
At this point, human consumption of earth’s natural resource has more than tripled in the last 40 years. This voracious demand for natural resources and their derivatives has resulted into environmental degradation of over 50 per cent of the world’s major ecosystems, their services and loss of livelihoods2. Meanwhile, the world population continues to grow.
Today’s youth will be the policymakers of tomorrow— and they have many complex and difficult decisions to make that will shape the lives of billions of people. That’s why UNEP and its partners have been working— both in visible endeavours and behind-the-scenes— to equip generations of young people with relevant, up-to-date knowledge and skills possible to tackle these challenges and pave their own, more sustainable paths. These are a selection of our efforts.
A hotbed of sustainable innovation: UNEP, partners and youth in education
The paths of Ms. Uthpala Sankalpani, 28, and Ms. Upendra Arjeewani, 30, met at work: after graduation, they became Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production Technologists at Sri Lanka’s National Cleaner Production Centre. But outside of work, they walk the talk, too.
With funding support from the European Union’s SWITCH-Asia Programme, the two young ladies completed UNEP and UNITAR’s e-learning course in 2015, “Introduction to SCP in Asia”. They took that opportunity to create action plans on sustainable consumption and production (SCP) to be implemented at their respective alma maters: the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and Sabaragamuwa University.
In May this year, Ms. Sankalpani organised a workshop at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura on “Managing and accounting for waste” for 194 second year students of the Department of Accounting, providing future young professionals with the knowledge of sustainable waste management practices and guidance on waste auditing.
Meanwhile, in neighbouring India, over 50 per cent of the population is under the age of 24.3 India’s consumer market is poised to swell over the next two decades as the country undergoes a major transformation, with income levels set to almost triple. India is the twelfth-largest consumer market today, but will become the world's fifth-largest consumer market by 2025.
Here, supported by the European Union’s SWITCH-Asia Programme, UNEP and TERI University, India’s greenest campus, have joined forces to develop the first graduate course on SCP and resource efficiency in a developing country, the MA on Public Policy and Sustainable Development. It intends for Government of India policymakers and graduate students at TERI University to learn about strengthening public governance for SCP and resource efficiency. Its first intake of students starts in the Autumn Semester, August 2016.
The partnership promotes Indian research on SCP, awarding funds for three start-up research projects that will examine priority SCP issues such as sustainable tourism, sustainable built environment, and sustainable consumer choices in the South Asia region.
Other planned joint educational activities include taking SCP into 30 of the lowest-income public schools in Delhi and Hyderabad. These pre-selected schools at the Higher Secondary level (11th-12th grades) will learn how sustainability can be applied to their local context. On a one-day field trip, 900 students and teachers from the schools will visit TERI University campuses to learn about SCP habits, technologies and practices that can benefit their daily lives. Students will be given solar lanterns produced by TERI University’s engineering students and text labs, to ensure access to renewable energy and lighting sources in their homes and for schoolwork.
On another continent, in Kenya, UNEP’s Environmental Education and Training Unit (EETU) and partners have conducted education for sustainable consumption and green economy programs for youth in institutes of higher education and communities and for policymakers.
A highlight of its work is the setting up of the Kenya Green University Network, a functional network of over 70 institutes of higher education in Kenya with an aim of incorporating environment, low carbon climate resilience development strategies and sustainability aspects in their education, training, campus operations and enhancing student engagement.
This ensures continuity in the spirit of nobel-prize winning Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai, who once said, “I’m very conscious of the fact that you can’t do it alone. It’s teamwork. When you do it alone you run the risk that when you are no longer there nobody else will do it.”
Teaming up communities and youth: Going far together
In Nigeria, the UNEP Ecosystems Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA) has mobilized youth groups to engage in developing an ecosystems-based adaptation farm, the product of mutual partnerships between farmer groups, youth groups and agriculture cooperatives. Efforts are being made to link this farm to commercial value chains. Over 1000 youth are involved, building their capacity to leverage SCP to create income opportunities and to sustainably produce food. Through EBAFOSA, this model will be replicated across Nigeria and the rest of EBAFOSA’s 40 member countries.
EBAFOSA engages youth to facilitate policies and ground actions to upscale EBA-agriculture. It ensures that on-farm production enhances the capacity of ecosystems, links EBA to clean energy for processing and ICTs for market information. This conserves resources and minimises agro carbon print, promoting sustainable consumption and production along the entire agro-value chain. It connects youth to professionals in academia, policy and private sectors, creating capacity building and employment opportunities.
Seven billion dreams
Right now, there are actually seven billion dreams— all seven billion of us sharing the water, land, air, and everything above and below the ground on this tiny, cloud- and gas-wrapped blue-and-green ball floating in endless star-speckled blackness.
If you are 16 now, you are one of 1.6 billion youths among the world’s seven billion people. In 2030, you will be 30; you’ll be one of 8.5 billion people here, dreaming one of 8.5 billion dreams. In 2050, you’ll be 50, and one of 9.7 billion earthlings sharing these resources.
The only certainty we have about this future is that the way we consume and produce will need to be fundamentally different to meet the dreams we’ve collectively infused into the 2030 Sustainable Development agenda— and it’s today’s young people who will need to envision and create this future.
UN Environment's communications work on resource efficiency is proudly supported by Hisense.