Amazing Young Women Leaders Remind Us Why We Are in Rio: The Future


As the Earth Summit convenes today, after three days of preparatory meetings, I am reflecting on what this is all about, 50,000 people in Rio, 130 heads of state. Why are we all here?

Rio is about the well-being of our planet, but more fundamentally it is about the future well-being of our children and their children. And it is about whether our natural systems can sustain all of us for generations to come.

The voices of the future—today’s youth—are the most powerful voices here, and the ones we all must listen to. It is our responsibility to them that motivates our work and our determination to put all of us on a more sustainable pathway. 

Last night I had the privilege to participate on a panel with two powerful young women who have raised their voices on the moral issues embedded in the Earth Summit: Severn Suzuki who at age 12 rocked the first Earth Summit 20 years ago (watch her extraordinary 1992 speech here); and Brittany Trilford who won the Date with History video competition hosted by NRDC and our partners. Brittany, a 17 year old from Wellington, New Zealand, reminds all of us that she speaks for 3 billion children. “Think of me as half of the world,” she told the crowd.  

This session was the most exciting part of the Rio Earth Summit for me because it captured why we are here.

Severn Suzuki, Brittany Trilford, and myself

The room was electrified by Severn and Brittany. I was inspired to be with them, to hear their passion, their demands and the logic of what they asked of all of us. Knowing they will be part of our future and will hold us all accountable helped carry us beyond the laborious UN process and uninspiring text under consideration today and tomorrow.

Brittany addressed the opening plenary of the Earth Summit today, introduced by Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. She represented today’s youth and spoke truth to power. “Are you here to save face or to save us?” she asked.


And that is indeed the core question. The energy from the Earth Summit doesn’t come from the negotiations or the document. It arises from convening of 50,000 people from around the world who are determined to hold accountable our leaders in government, in business, and yes those of us in civil society and the environmental community.  

We must ensure that we fulfill our moral responsibility to Brittany, to Severn, to their children to our own children and to future generations of this fragile planet that we depend on every day.