Links between human health and environmental degradation were the main themes of a week-long conference organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in mid-February. The 2013 TUNZA (a Kiswahili word meaning ‘to treat with care or affection’) International Youth Conference on the Environment hosted around 250 youth delegates from over 100 countries to explore how global youth may directly tackle today’s most pressing environmental issues.
Today, because around 60 per cent of ecosystem services are degraded, clean water, food, and sanitation are compromised. Exposure to unsafe chemicals and the inhalation of indoor smoke from inefficient cook stoves are among other key environmental factors linked to illness. According to UN studies, these factors contribute to a larger proportion of illness in children and young people compared to the population as a whole. At the TUNZA conference, UNEP experts conducted workshops and panel discussions to present the latest research on health impacts of environmental degradation, sustainable consumption, green entrepreneurship, and new international targets that are set to succeed the Millennium Development Goals from 2015.
The TUNZA Conference took place the week before environment ministers from across the world gathered for the UNEP Governing Council. In December 2012, the UN General Assembly resolved to strengthen UNEP by permitting all UN member and observer states to participate at the 2013 UNEP Governing Council for the first time. This UNGA resolution underscored the need for youth, women, and indigenous peoples to be more closely integrated in global environmental decision-making. Representatives from the TUNZA Youth Advisory Council attended this first expanded Governing Council to ensure inclusion of youth perspectives.
“GEO-5 for Youth shows that young people are trailblazers when it comes to new, creative solutions to the world’s most critical environmental challenges,” Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, told youth delegates at the opening ceremony of the conference.