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UNDPI-NGO conference 'Sustainable Societies: Responsive Citizens' declared “success”

09 September 2011

Bonn, Germany: More than 1,400 people – grassroots representatives from over 70 countries – gathered in Bonn, Germany, from 3 to 5 September for the United Nations Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization Annual Conference. The conference revolved around the theme of "Sustainable Societies, Responsive Citizens."
The participants, representing 460 different NGOs, shared best practices, displayed their efforts in an exhibition hall, and forged documents that will be integrated into next year's Rio+20, the UN Conference on Environment and Development.

The 64th annual United Nations Department of Public Information Non-Governmental Organizations Conference kicked off on 3 September with a tree planting ceremony in the grounds of the Maritim Hotel in Bonn, Germany. Felix Finkbeiner, a 13-year-old volunteer who started the ‘Plant for the Planet’ campaign stole the show, symbolically placing his hand over the mouth of Bonn Lord Mayor Jürgen Nimptsch and asking politicians to “stop talking and start acting”.

The participants of the 64th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference assembled in Bonn, Germany, seat of UN organizations and conventions working for sustainable development worldwide and home to an interdisciplinary cluster of NGOs and institutions working in the fields of environment and development.

Flavia Paniseiri, Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme explained the importance of this Conference. "Achieving sustainable development is not just the job of governments and the United Nations. Sustainable societies need responsive citizens – people who rise to the challenge, who take action of their own free will, and work towards a better and brighter future for everyone around them.” She explained further “It also needs Non-Governmental Organizations and a strong civil society who organizes and empowers people to do that. It needs people-centred approaches. In a nutshell, for sustainable development to work, we’re going to need to get as many people as possible involved in a coordinated way and with a collaborative spirit. We’re going to need a lot of volunteers. Because sustainable development is everyone’s responsibility.”

In the opening ceremony, Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary General  for Communications and Public Information, said the DPI-NGO conference “is a crucial step towards the goals of Rio+20”, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development which will be held in 2012. “Sustainable societies don’t just happen.  Each person can make a difference,” said Mr. Akasaka.  “This conference pays tribute to the commitment of volunteers to make a difference.”

Lamenting today’s population as “the most irresponsible generation the planet has ever seen…whose consumption patterns have created inequalities”, Mr. Felix Dodds, Conference Co-Chair,  encouraged conference participants to get “actively engaged” since people are “the foundation of the green economy” and to “hold your governments accountable to the agreements they signed up to.”

Through roundtable discussions and workshops, participants addressed the issue of
how to move the sustainable development agenda forward; and in doing so to make the connection to civic engagement… with volunteers. Where do you see volunteers?. Flavia Pansieri responded; “ Take an African village with a water pump, that pump is being managed by a local volunteer committee, I am sure the fair trade towns were started by and still inspired by volunteers. And what about the energy policy change and closing down of nuclear power plants in Germany, if it wasn’t for the tens of thousands of people going onto the streets, activists, volunteering their time for a common cause; people freely giving their time for the benefit of others from commitment to create change.”

As Vandana Shiva, a prominent environmental activist said, “Volunteerism is freedom”
“Responsibility means that to take action, one has to look at the consequences. To volunteer, you have to have freedom.  Slaves don’t volunteer,” she continued, cautioning, “We can be volunteers but polluters can’t be volunteers.  They have to be regulated.”

After three packed days of high level speakers, cultural events and workshops, the 64th UN DPI/NGO Conference came to a close. Participants shared unique perspectives on the links between sustainability and volunteerism and built stronger networks and partnerships to tackle the challenges ahead.

 In particular the lively debates produced a Conference Declaration, incorporating 1000 individual contributions, to be used as one of the first NGO inputs to the 20-year review meeting of the UN Conference on the Environment and Development (Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 2012.

The Conference Declaration will also be carried into the Global Volunteer Conference: “Volunteering for a sustainable future” being held in Budapest Hungary from 15-17 September 2011.  This conference is being organized jointly by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme.  And the outcomes from the Global Volunteer Conference will be highlighted in two special sessions of the UN General Assembly on 05 December, 2011 to mark the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers.

Deemed a success, the 64th DPI-NGO conference in Bonn, conveyed a strong message that creating sustainable development is not just the job of governments and NGOs; sustainable societies need responsive citizens. Before declaring the conference closed, Under-Secretary General Akasaka left participants with parting words to inspire them to action, “You are the agents of hope and timely action,” he said, “ We need your voices to impress upon policy makers that we are at the crossroads of how countries regards the challenges of population, poverty, climate change, and conflict resolution.  You are capable of taking time and needed action on the ground.”

Learn more about the conference

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