Climate debate also the focus of the youth
Climate protection, regenerative energies and modern technologies for environmental protection – these topics took center stage at the Tunza International Youth Conference whose festive opening ceremony took place today. Between today and August 30, 180 young environmentalists aged 15 - 24 from 85 countries will be exchanging ideas on the topic of “Technology in Service of the Environment” and gathering new experiences. The youth environment summit is held for the first time in central Europe and hosted by Bayer AG as part of its partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Modern technology will play an increasingly important role in solving future environmental problems. “Technological and industrial processes have in the past often enough been the source of environmental damage – and continue to be today. At the same time, it is hard to imagine effective environmental protection without innovative technologies” said German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel in his opening speech. “We in the industrialized world bear a special responsibility to make our technological know-how available in the service of environmental protection. We will after all benefit the most in doing so – not least of which economically.”
Jürgen Rüttgers, North Rhine-Westphalia State Premier, also outlined the decisive role to be played by innovation in avoiding and addressing environmental damage. “We must therefore promote technological developments, and connect economic growth with effective environmental protection, not only at home but worldwide.” Rüttgers reminded that North Rhine-Westphalia is a pioneer in the field of cutting-edge technologies.
Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of UNEP, wished that the conference will not only provide an overview on the state of environmental protection in an industrialized country but also have a motivational effect: “Our hope is that on the basis of discussions at this conference, 180 young people will return to their communities and nations and become beacons of activities and also motivators for many others to play a part in addressing environmental challenges.”
Werner Wenning, the Chairman of the Bayer Board of Management, emphasized the aspect of generational conflict while addressing the importance of the youth environment conference: “Securing the future cannot exclude seriously taking into account the concerns of those who will soon be called on to share in the decisions about our planet.” Wenning pointed out that the company supports UNEP’s activities in the areas of youth and the environment because the youth’s commitment to sustainable development has earned respect and the voice of the young must be heard. In order to continue the successful cooperation between Bayer and UNEP, Steiner and Wenning signed a new cooperation contract today covering the next 3 years. As part of the agreement, Bayer will support UNEP with its own programmes and a yearly payment in the amount of 1.2 million Euros.
In the current debate about climate protection, which is also part of the conference’s agenda, Werner Wenning announced a group-wide program to further optimize energy efficiency of production processes and to specifically evaluate major investment projects as regards climate protection aspects. Bayer is on the right path when it comes to the reduction of its emissions: “We have set ourselves the goal of reducing direct greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2010 compared to 1990 levels. We have already achieved 46 percent.” Furthermore, work to develop renewable raw materials and crops that produce good yields even in extreme conditions such as heat and drought is ongoing.
In a video address, Professor Wangari Maathai, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and Kenya’s deputy minister for the environment, encouraged the youth not to give up in their efforts to be active in the area of environmental protection while fighting to have their voices heard in political debates. Renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang, soccer hero Rudi Völler, as well as the German pop band Silbermond also welcomed participants via video.
In workshops and plenary sessions, participants will debate key global environmental issues such as climate change, the importance of renewable energies, the transfer of technologies and the agenda for environmental work in their own countries. The program also includes excursions to model environmental projects and facilities in Germany, visits to the environmental protection plants at Bayer’s Leverkusen and Dormagen sites, and a tree planting event as support of UNEP’s “Plant for the Planet: The Billion Tree Campaign.” Another highlight of the program will be a presentation by astronaut Dr. Gerhard Thiele, Head of the Astronaut Center of the European Space Agency (ESA) in Cologne.
At the end of the conference, participants will elect some of their own to represent the various regions of the world on the Tunza Youth Advisory Council, which will advise UNEP on issues relating to youth environmental work for the next two years.
UNEP chose the 180 participants from more than 1,000 applications in an online selection procedure. All the applicants were nominated by organizations or schools where they had actively contributed to projects supporting environmental work in their country. All six of the world’s regions (North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, West Asia and Asia-Pacific) are represented among the 85 participating countries. UNEP has also ensured that both sexes are equally represented.
The word “Tunza” that appears in the conference’s title comes from the East African language Kiswahili and means: “To treat with care and affection”. It is also the slogan for UNEP’s complete program for young people and children. The organization is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya.
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