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Rio+20: An Opportunity to Secure a Sustainable Future

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Earlier this year the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, said young people needed to be included in national delegations to UN meetings, including next year's increasingly crucial Rio+20 conference.

Rio+20 marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and is a new step to securing renewed political commitment for sustainable development across the world.

Ban Ki-Moon's clarion call that "young people can and must play a central role in bringing dynamic new ideas, fresh thinking and energy to the Rio+20 process" is a fantastic opportunity for us all to harness the power of youth.

There are 1.8 billion people aged 15-24 in the world; this creates a wonderful opportunity to put sustainable development at the heart of policy making for governments all over the world, now and forever. Imagine the heads of state, prime ministers and presidents attending the conference working toward achieving the goals and aspirations of over a billion young people.

The International Youth Strategy Meeting for Rio+20 was held last month in Spain which should be a catalyst to making Rio+20 an important step to secure the future of our planet. It is great young people are making a start, now those of us who can make a difference should follow their lead.

We should all do everything we can to make this important meeting a springboard for further ideas which help to build real momentum for action in Brazil next year. To do this every country should engage with its young people now. They are the future and it is their future the Rio+20 conference will aim to secure.

A recent United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report makes a compelling case for a transition to a green economy and shows us the way on many matters of policy that will hopefully be on the agenda at Rio+20. Unfortunately, with the global economy continue to struggle it is all too common for policymakers to shy away from an agenda driven by sustainable policies. Short-termism takes over, policy makers think more about tomorrow than they do next year. Over time this approach means no positive action is ever taken and another generation of young people will have moved into adulthood without policy makers building sustainable development into everything we do. This is the opportunity Rio+20 brings.

I have seen in my own country the damage that can be done by unchecked industrial development. We have learnt from the past -- we inherited a toxic legacy from the Soviet era -- and are purposely working to make sure our rapid development and economic growth will secure the future for our precious and unique environment as well as our population.

Not embracing a sustainability agenda is short-sighted, hurting future generations as much as the present one. Green economic policies benefit all -- businesses are more efficient, fewer resources are used and environments are protected. Green growth is good for those poorer in society as it will help to lift their living standards and eradicate poverty -- a key aim of Rio+20. A further aim is to make sure the right institutions and relationships are in place to facilitate this.

As with any economic transition there are interlinked issues of trade, investment and technology. Challenges, yes, but also further opportunities. Azerbaijan is rich in natural resources including oil and gas and now as a strategic partner, we are an important source of energy for the rest of Europe. This doesn't mean we stop thinking about the future or finding ways to secure sustainable development, which is why we are investing in renewable energy sources. In short, Azerbaijan is making notably deep and early commitments to low-carbon energy production. It is these relatively simple but significant moves which Rio+20 can help to make the norm across the world.

Azerbaijan is a young country with one of the youngest populations in the world so we understand the importance of engaging, motivating and communicating with our young people. We also have one of the fastest growing economies in the world so also understand the pressures development has on natural resources and the environment.

By recognizing this -- not being short-termist in our approach -- we are already working to make our young people central to developing strategies and policies which make our development genuinely sustainable. It is exciting that the process working toward Rio+20 is taking the same approach. Putting the protection and enhancement of our unique environment at the heart of our development is the right thing to do. When you talk to young people about their future it motivates them to get involved and use their passion for the good of all.

We may still be months away from Rio+20 but its importance for the future cannot be underestimated which is why, if we harness the passion of young people now, we can work to make sure it is a success. There is a lot of work to do before the heads of state arrive in Brazil but the work has already begun which should give us all hope.