A Future To Look Forward To: Youth and Students Campaign for a Sustainable Future

The Sustainable Future Campaign is a programme designed by an international team, in coordination with the United Nations Youth and Student Association of Austria, to provide educational platforms to engage global youth and encourage environmental development efforts. The Campaign is planning a series of debates and panel discussions with scientists from diverse backgrounds, leading industrialists and representatives from the education and environment sectors.
As Governments and major institutions work to improve environmental conditions and ensure sustainability, the Campaign will lead a year-long effort to introduce tangible steps young people can take to support the achievement of ensuring environmental sustainability, one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
A history of poorly managed and irresponsible development practices has amounted to a great loss of vital natural resources, like freshwater and lumber. The economically and socially disadvantaged in global societies are fundamentally affected by this loss. Millions of people face slum-like living conditions, as well as a scarcity of secure access to safe drinking water.
In September 2000, the world's leading development institutions and 191 Member States of the United Nations adopted the UN Millennium Declaration, committing their nations in tackling mankind's greatest problems and achieving the time-bound MDG targets. This collective commitment to establish "a more peaceful, prosperous and just world" addresses specific environmental development objectives. The number of people living without sustainable access to safe drinking water is to be cut by half by 2015 and living conditions of at least 100 million slum dwellers are to be improved significantly by 2020.
Every nation or institution that signed the Millennium Declaration is equally charged with the responsibility of addressing this escalating problem. Environmental sustainability through sustainable development practices must be integrated increasingly into the political and programmatic efforts of Governments, clear benchmarks must be established to assess and encourage the progress of such efforts, and today's youth must be actively engaged in the entire process.
In a recently published joint study by Yale University and Columbia University, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, in Geneva, Switzerland, and the Joint Research Center of the European Commission, in Ispra, Italy, a first real attempt was made to base developmental efforts on clear, quantifiable metrics. Data from 133 countries, filtered through 16 unique measures and indicators for environmental protection, were worked into the Pilot 2006 Environmental Performance Index (EPI). These were subdivided into the two aspects of "environmental health" and "ecosystem vitality", which include six well-established policy categories: environmental health, air quality, water resources, biodiversity and habitat, productive natural resources and sustainable energy. For every category, there was a maximum reachable score established that simplified the process of evaluating the EPI of each country. Nations that outperformed in specific categories were given a 100 per cent score in order to set a benchmark to reasonably assess performance.
Although many countries achieved outstanding results in specific categories, no single nation was able to perform well across all categories. Top-ranked New Zealand and Sweden achieved exceptionally high scores in environmental health and in individual categories of environmental vitality, based on their abilities to manage their water supplies and other productive natural resources. As for industrialized nations with a strong gross domestic product, a strong sweeping achievement in all categories was expected. However, as was characteristic of similar nations, biodiversity and habitats, as well as air quality, had suffered greatly from industrial and technical advancement.

In contrast, emerging and developing countries, such as Namibia, Rwanda and Uganda, which are ranked in the middle or bottom, achieved superior results in the vitality sector, but lacked in environmental health.
The study also illustrates the need for every country to improve its efforts to protect the environment and the living conditions of its inhabitants. Each nation must assess its unique performance across all categories and engage its citizens in a collective effort to shift the paradigm of environmental development. It is vital to educate today's generation about the threat the environment is facing and the steps that can be taken to achieve a sustainable future. The next generation will either inherit the consequences of the country's apathy or be given the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of its commitment to address the environmental issues of today.