Funmi Oyatogun, who was invited to the closing plenary session of the World Environmental Education Congress in July 2015 at Gothenburg Sweden, represented the African youth demographic in the international ESD conference. In sharing her views on the outcome of the summit, she stressed the important to ‘re-brand’ the message of sustainable development to suit the realities and need of the audience. According to her, “polar bears are great and we should preserve them. But we don’t care about polar bears in Nigeria, we don’t know what they are. It is important for us to make these issues more context specific and tell them, this thing is relevant but tell them in a language they understand.” She also championed the role of young people in sustainable development, telling the world that there was something radical about young people that is needed to challenge the status quo.
Read excerpts of her very inspiring speech below:
On challenging the status quo:
“We (the youth) are the generation that is least invested in the status quo, so we are most eager to challenge it; which is exactly what we need for education for sustainable development.”
On the Sustainable Development Goals:
“In the last few days, we have been talking about ESD before the decade ended and after the decade and I’ve been very encouraged at the sessions, the plenaries, because everyone seems very interested in collaborating. It seems like the north and south divide in sustainable development is closing, which is exciting for Nigeria. I look forward to the collaborations that will come out of this session. Another thing is, the SDGs seem more promising than the MDGs, which is great because they are more comprehensive, definitely more detailed and we needed something that was more inclusive than the Millenium Development Goals, so we got the SDGs. So, I’m looking forward to the outcome of the SDGs.”
On concerns about the SDGs:
“However, there are still some lingering questions and concerns that I have as somebody who is working in a context like Nigeria. And if you don’t know anything about Nigeria, Nigeria is rapidly changing everyday and there so many things going on and it is a concern that something even as comprehensive as the SDGs just might not be able to tackle some of our most challenging sustainable development issues. At the end of the day, it is a policy that was prescribed and I hope the SDGs don’t put us in the same trap that traditional development has put us in, where a one-size-fits-all model is brought down to certain countries and certain contexts, and doesn’t address the contextual variations and differences.”
On emphasizing the priority level of environmental issues:
“These questions are not new, these concerns are not new, but I think they need to be more pertinent than they already because, for instance in Nigeria, sustainable development is a very heavy term and comes with a lot of baggage (for lack of a better term). And, one camp of people see it as a luxury issue that should be addressed only when you’ve ticked the hunger box, the health box and the priority areas, like they say. Another group believes that it is anti-development or antagonistic to what the young people (our generation) are looking forward to; what they’ve been taught is the traditional way of progress and success. We need to find a way to make it clear that sustainable development is not a luxury issue and it is also not antagonistic to progress, even though it might be antagonistic to progress as we know it, which is fine because again, it is important for us to challenge the status quo.”
On polar bears:
“The entire world is facing the same issue, even though we are facing them differently. So, polar bears are great and we should preserve them. But we don’t care about polar bears in Nigeria, we don’t know what they are. It is important for us to make these issues more context specific and tell them, this thing is relevant but tell them in a language they understand.”
On the divide between youth and elders in sustainable development:
“I don’t think it is a war, I don’t think there are two sides of the fence. It is important to have everyone represented not just because we are the future, but because we are living in it too; we’re the now as well. We are not saying that older people, non youth, don’t have something valid, infact, they have the experience that we don’t have. But there’s something radical about young people: we haven’t yet accepted the fact that things are impossible or dreams don’t come true. We haven’t yet accepted that; maybe in ten years we will but until then, it is important for us to have a complementary relationship and work together. “
To watch the entire session, see the full video below:
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