How youth helped put social justice at the center of the Global Landscapes Forum

31 Jul 2019

As the challenges of climate change and environmental degradation become more complex and intense, it is those people who are most immediately dependent on landscapes and their resources who face the greatest burden

Promoting a rights-based approach to landscape management will be vital to Indigenous groups, youth, women, rural farmers and local communities, who are all tied to landscape resources that are critical in determining their well-being and their futures.  

Just ahead of GLF Bonn 2019, the Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL) gathered 40 outstanding young people from around the world, along with experts and mentors, for a workshop titled, “A Just Future – Social Justice in a Changing Climate”. The workshop created a space in which participants could co-define the elements they understand to be central to a rights-based approach.

This event was held in the offices of  the European Forest Institute (EFI), one of GLF’s most recent charter members. (In addition to offering their space and assistance for the workshop, EFI also co-hosted their own conference session on the SDG-tenure nexus.)  

To frame the workshop, the young leaders pooled their knowledge and experiences to construct their own rights framework. This shared outcome recognizes the rights of people, individually and collectively, to determine their own identities and development pathways, and to access the resources and receive the institutional support necessary to realize those pathways, as well as the inherent rights of non-human beings and ecosystem processes.

Representatives from organizations, including the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) and the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development (IPMG) – as well as workshop participants Mayumi Sato, Rosario Perez and Renata Koch – discussed how they experience, in their work and private lives, “rights in the landscape”. That was the overarching theme for GLF Bonn 2019. 

Participants’ understandings of rights in the landscape were tested through applied exercises. They worked together to:

  • tackle case studies of  complex land, water, resource and community configurations that have created rights-based conflicts around the world; 
  • communicate their approaches to addressing these complex problems;
  • reflect on lessons learned for sustainable landscape management.

Several leaders who took part in the youth workshop went on to represent their cohort in the conference that followed. Plenary speeches were given by:


Wambui Waibochi from UN Environment brought the main takeaways from the YIL workshop to the “Generations of Wisdom,” workshop where participants explored the concepts of wisdom and power as they relate to the discussion of rights in the landscape. 

These youth representatives challenged the wider audience to engage with the social justice topics that were central to exchanges in the youth workshop, including marginalization, colonization, and the exclusion of young people in decision-making.

In his speech, Desmond Alugnoa called for youth to share their visions, and for participants “to give young people the space to act without feeling insecure”. 

In her speech, Mayumi Sato called on the GLF community to not shy away from controversial topics like racism, sexism and homophobia, which many youth workshop participants directly confronted: 

“During our youth workshop, we had an open and honest discussion about marginalization… We talked about how our identities and positionality affect our rights and how they affect other people’s rights… We talked about this because no matter how contentious these topics might seem to some of you in the audience, we as young people are talking about it because it’s important to us.”

While these young people challenged their audiences to change their beliefs and behaviors to confront social injustices, the ultimate call to action from both the youth workshop and its representatives at the conference was for intergenerational solidarity and unity.  

Said Mayumi Sato: 

“…young leaders like Rosario (Perez) and Renata (Koch) cannot, and they did not, do it alone: we need you to join in on the dialogue. The discussion might begin with us, but we need to include everybody.” 

Ahead of the U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the guidance and inclusion of young leaders in sustainable landscape decision-making will be vital to ensuring that their rights, and those of other traditionally marginalized groups, are secured and upheld, and that the benefits from the ecosystems we restore and conserve will be shared equitably. 

This YIL workshop on rights is one in a series of youth workshops connected to GLF events that have inspired and helped to build the change-making capacity of young people. Click here to read more about it! You can also read more about last year’s GLF program on landscape leadership here.

By Sophie Callahan

All Pictures by Pilar Valbuena

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