Do you know the story of the girl who silenced the world for five minutes?

Do you know the story of the girl who silenced the world for five minutes? Her name is Severn Cullis-Suzuki. At the age of 12, she stood before representatives of all countries of the world, gathered in Rio in 1992, and told them: “My father always says ‘you are what you do, not what you say!’ Well, what you do makes me cry at night. You grown-ups say you love us. I challenge you, please, make your actions reflect your words…”

In 1992 in Rio the Janeiro a conference was organised by the United nations called the ‘Earth Summit‘ . The topic of the conference was the Environment and Sustainable Development. During this conference 172 governments and 2.400 NGO’s were present; and 17.000 people attended the parallel NGO Forum. This incredibly large conference resulted in Agenda 21, the ‘Rio Declaration on Environment and Development’, the ‘Statement of Forest Principles’, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. Perhaps you heard once about one of these documents. All these plans, declarations and statements are intended to make sure that the people living on this earth will treat the earth in a more sustainable and environmental friendly way like Severn Cullis-Suzuki asked.

Now, more than 20 years later, how have we really responded to her call for action? Is Europe on track towards sustainable development?

We Europeans do live longer, eat more, enjoy technology and we travel like never before. But at what cost? In 2012 alone, each European consumed on average 14.6 tonnes of ‘stuff’ (roughly the weight of four elephants) and generated as much as 500 kg of waste. We recycle over one and a half times more than in the 1990s, and the share of renewable energy more than doubled over the same time. However, the electricity needed every year by a European household increased by almost one third and the number of cars in circulation by 40%. As a result, we now import more than half the energy we use and we are no more sustainable than we were before.

Last year, annual GDP per capita stood at 23.300  Euro. At the same time, the average government debt per person was 21.908 Euro (almost the fee for one year of Global Business studies at Oxford) and twice as much as in the 1990s. At the same time, almost a quarter of Europeans are at risk of poverty or social exclusion and roughly one in four young people don’t have a job. As this happens, the richest 20% of the population earns five times (!) more than the poorest 20%.

AEGEE takes sustainability seriously. Not only is it striving to make itself a more sustainable organisation, but with the milestone project Europe on Track, it has helped raise important questions with other young people across Europe: “what is sustainability?”, “are we on track towards a sustainable future?”, “how can we live more sustainably?”.

The survey carried out after Europe on Track has shown that three out of four respondents feel there is not enough attention for sustainability within formal education. Other respondents consider non-formal education to be better suited to provide people with the necessary knowledge about ways to live more sustainably.

For these reasons, at this Autumn Agora in Zaragoza, the Environmental Working Group (EnWG) will organise a workshop on sustainable development in Europe, with the participation of an experienced external facilitator from the European Commission. For more information see the Agora Booklet or contact them at

So come and find out more at Saturday the 2nd of November from 14:30 to 16:00 in Zaragoza!

Written by Iris Hordijk from AEGEE-Utrecht, Speaker of the EnWG

Pictures provided by Caio Macedo