Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honored to be given this opportunity to speak here today on the subject that I feel passionate about - , encouraging young generation to take a lead in acting on one of the pressing issues of our time - environmental protection. I would like to take advantage of this special occasion to offer my perspective on the increasing role of the future leaders on ensuring sustainable environment.
There’s no doubt that we are holding this discussion at a very crucial moment for the humanity. For many nations around the world sustainable development through environmental protection is a critical matter that requires immediate actions. A lot of environmental challenges we are facing today know no borders and jeopardize not just the prosperity of a nation, but the health of its population and even security. That is why addressing the issues of environmental degradation, management of natural resources, climate change and other critical matters have to be faced in cooperation with all countries and with the commitment from every member of the international community.
In 21st century our world has grown smaller and very much interconnected. Over the years researchers studied the impact of globalization on the environment, and by now, we can confidently say that negative impact of globalization on the environment far outweigh the positive. We need to understand, balance and do our best to prevent any possible direct and indirect effects of globalization on our natural environment. And while, governments around the world are trying to achieve this through negotiating and promoting enforcement of effective treaties, younger generation also has its own very important role to play.
It was only a year ago that we launched International Dialogue for Environmental Action – IDEA campaign in Azerbaijan with the mission to work with young people to put environmental awareness and action at the heart of family, community and national life. IDEA is based on the principles of dialogue, action, leadership and education – all essential ingredients for equipping a generation to create positive and sustainable environmental change.
Many growing environmental challenges around the globe require regional cooperation. In Azerbaijan and South Caucasus we grow up proudly learning that we live in a region which has abundant natural wonders and hosts nine out of possible eleven climatic zones. But we are also not ignorant of the fact that this region faces serious environmental challenges, from endangered species to industrial pollution to basic issues of water supply and public health.
Environmental concerns are being taken seriously among young people in Azerbaijan. Hence, one of the missions of IDEA campaign is to facilitate knowledge exchange, promote debate, build networks and mobilize intellectual power to tackle those concerns among youth on national and regional level. This was the main topic of discussion during my meetings with UNEP officials in Geneva a few weeks ago. We also talked about a number of initiatives aimed at promotion of “green economy” in Azerbaijan and in the Caucasus region.
More needs to be done to understand our relationship with the environment and, I strongly believe, the best place to begin is in classrooms. Our children should have better understanding of the vast array of physical and biological systems across the Earth; positive and negative consequences of their actions, both intended and unintended, as well as interactions between human created and natural systems. Environmental education will empower future leaders with the knowledge and tools necessary to relate to the environmental challenges of our time.
We have to send the message loud and clear – clean world and clean environment starts with a clean community. Raising awareness among young people and teaching them tools like, increasing recycling, reducing waste, saving energy, reusing and conserving water, promoting environment-conscious green practices will not only benefit their community, but also slow the rate of climate change and contribute to reversing the environmental degradation trend that threatens to define the future of our planet.
The future depends on how we live today. This is a reality that needs to be embraced by younger generation across the globe. We need to take responsibility for our environment and admit that our actions today are the seeds we sow that will bear the fruits reaped tomorrow. Azerbaijan’s environmental challenges today consist of the list of problems created mostly beyond its control. Long years of Soviet environmental mismanagement, including on and off shore pollution accumulated from irresponsible exploitation of our natural resources, changing level of the Caspian Sea, deforestation and other serious concerns are continued to be tackled by our nation one at a time.
Any war, regardless of its place of origin or underlying circumstances, gives an irreversible damage to nature. I will give you a very simple example: the near-extinction of the Caucasian leopard – a problem created as a result of Armenia’s continued occupation of Azerbaijan’s territory. In a region with extremely high levels of military presence at borders, the idea of safe cross-regional wildlife corridors is an immense challenge. That is why, last year, IDEA gave start to a new project. The “Big Five” project is built around five most important animals of the Caucasus - bear, eagle, wolf, gazelle and leopard. The existence of these five animals symbolizes the health of the regional ecosystem. We have also planted over 21 million trees since the announcement of the Year of Ecology in Azerbaijan in 2010.
IDEA campaign also takes advantage of creative projects to give the young generation a platform where they can propose their own vision of the future they want. Azerbaijan is a country with one of the youngest populations in the world. It is of utmost importance to us to engage, motivate and communicate with our young people, to make sure they are central to developing strategies and policies which make our development genuinely sustainable. The photo contests, painting exhibitions, essay and book writing competitions, and other creative means help us to reach out to young people and also listen to their concerns and feedbacks about the world around them.
Last week the Heads of States and Governments of the world renewed their commitment to sustainable development and to ensuring the promotion of economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for present and future generations in Rio, Brazil. They have recognized that sustainable development requires urgent actions and can only be achieved with a broad alliance of people, who can participate in decision-making and voice their concerns fundamental for sustainable development. I want to believe that these resolutions and commitments will not be left on papers, and ideas of “green economy”, “sustainable development”, and “environmental management” will find their reflections in our future actions.
I believe young people should be at the forefront when it comes to the active participation in achievement of sustainable development. At IDEA, we are convinced that dialogue stands at the core of environmental awareness building. We believe that more efficient action plans are the center piece of any constructive dialogue. And, most importantly education is the key to establishing effective action plans. So, let us learn and teach! Let us learn and create! Let us join hands and be united for this goal! After all, this Earth is our collective and only home.