Preaching biodiversity in Bonn

My plodding pace to the higher rungs of intelligentsia was fast-tracked when I received an invitation to be an expert for a political dialogue on “Biodiversity and Poverty Eradication” in Bonn yesterday. I rubbed elbows with the big-wigs in Germany and the environment scene, including Federal Economic Minster Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Angela Cropper who is the Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and Prof. Dr. Jeffrey Sayer who is connected with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Other guests came all the way from Kenya and Ethiopia. Moderating the dialogue is the seasoned German TV moderator Ingolf Baur.

What I initially thought to be a small informal dialogue of ten turned out to be in front of more than 300 guests! This I only learned less than three hours before the event from one of my youth co-representative, Barbara Kus, as we practiced our spiel. I represented the youth sector, as one of the participants of the upcoming International Youth Summit on Biodiversity. The Youth Summit will eventually lead us to the Conference of Parties (CoP9) on the Convention on Biodiversity later next month.
The dialogue started, warmed up and was soon rolling. Getting the insights of the experts only affirmed what I have been learning all along in the four walls of the classroom, the books I’ve been browsing, and the issues the media has been presenting to the public. I had to mentally improvise on the dramaturgy Barbara and I have prepared once the dialogue took shape. In the end I only followed about 10% of what we initially planned. We were seated in the front-most row, and had an up close and personal view of the panel discussion. It was now our turn for our five minutes of fame. As I walked to the podium and was flooded by the limelight, the side of the audience was a literal blur as they were hidden in the soft dimness of the auditorium.
I started off with a short account of a conversation I overheard when we were milling on the hall way, that less and less young people are getting involved with the environment and outdoor activities. I led this story to the Youth Summit I will be attending, telling the audience that ‘youth summits’ and such gatherings give me a funny picture of young people singing, dancing, and gathering around a bonfire while roasting marshmallows. It was reassuring to hear the audience laugh, giving me the sign that I have engaged them. From here I turned a little serious and told them of my personal contribution to the Youth Summit, that is to raise our (the youth) level of discussion to that of the experts’ (in addition to roasting marshmallows and dancing and singing!). It is not only these experts’ future that are at stake. Should I say more importantly, it is ours. I quipped that I hope to be on the other side of the stage, that being on the experts’ seats, on the future dialogues to come. I ended my piece with a quote from one of my German professors during our first module: The solutions of today could be the problems of the tomorrow. Hearing the applause of the audience was heart-warming. I felt proud as I walked back to our seats. I was grateful it was finished and pulled it off quite well.

The recognition spilled forth after the dialogue as I shook hands again with Ms. Wieczorek-Zeul and some of the audience congratulated me. Looking back, I never got to shake the hands of our Economic Minister despite the fact that we worked in the same office! I was surprised as a Filipino approached and shook my hands, who turns out to be a consul in the Philippine Embassy in Bonn. The reception (the best part) soon followed.

It was both an ego-boosting and humbling experience: people congratulating me of my little close-to-impromptu speech, and maybe soon, my responsibility towards them.

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