I met Phoutsada Chonephetsalath (Sunny) a few weeks ago at the ADB EMM4 meeting in Nay Pyi Taw, a gathering of environment ministers from the Greater Mekong Subregion. Sunny finished her bachelors’ degree in May 2013 at the National University of Laos, in Vientiane. While there, she was a volunteer member of SEED, a group of more than 150 active students at NUOL dedicated to environmental conservation.
Sunny and I were at the Youth Meeting which preceded the “Natural Capital” themed ministers’ meeting by two days. Along with other environmentally engaged young people, Sunny and I spent the week figuring out how to effectively convey the importance of responsible natural resource development to regional decision-makers.
In keeping with the conference-wide theme of “Natural Capital,” presenters from the Mekong Futures Institute (a WLE GM partner) and PLAN International outlined some sustainable development principles that experienced young environmental entrepreneurs might find useful in their attempts to dialogue with governments. The former Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, implored those in attendance not to underestimate their clout as the future decision-makers of the region.
Evidence of the group’s previous successes in environmental advocacy were apparent. One student, Doan, had launched an anti-littering campaign, Ruy Bang Xanh, at several Vietnamese college campuses, and during a lively presentation of her project to ministers, led the audience in a group chant of “I Promise! I Promise! I Promise!” (not to litter). Her enthusiasm for the environmental future of the Greater Mekong was par for the course.
By the end of the gathering, the participants of the Youth Meeting had drawn on their collective experiences to produce comprehensive suggestions for potential government initiatives. These remarks were delivered to ministers during closing ceremonies on the 29th of January.
The meeting was a rich opportunity to learn from plugged-in changemakers and policy-makers of all generations in the Greater Mekong. Development is occurring at a breakneck pace in this region, and taking into account the needs of many diverse stakeholders will be crucial to the longevity, success, and profitability of any investment in natural capital. If the energy and dedication on display at the EMM4 meeting was any indication, those dialogues promise only to get more productive in the coming years.