The Elders


Bringing intergenerational dialogue to Rio+20

“You have not told us to 'calm down', that we don't need to be radical; you have instead told us that we have the power to make change happen – and that is what we need to hear!” Sara Svensson

In June 2012, following eight weeks of online debate, the Elders and ‘Youngers’ travelled to Brazil for Rio+20, the UN summit on sustainable development.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Mary Robinson joined the four Youngers Esther Agbarakwe from Nigeria, Pedro Telles from Brazil, Marvin Nala from China, and Sara Svensson from Sweden to continue their dialogue face-to-face and bring an intergenerational perspective to the conference.

"I'm very pleased to see young people so engaged in building a better world at Rio+20. You're bringing a fresh perspective on environmental issues, not a technocratic approach.”

Before the conference started, former President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso met a group of young activists from around the world to exchange ideas and discuss the plans for Rio+20.

The group included representatives from TckTckTck’s Adopt a Negotiator project and Oxfam International’s global network of young Action Partners.

"It's important to start a dialogue, to listen to each each other’s ideas." Marvin Nala from China, onstage at Rio+Social with Mary Robinson, Gro Harlem Brundtland and his fellow Youngers

Asked by the Elders how to get older people engaging with the issue of sustainable development, Marvin suggested that widening access to Twitter, Facebook, Sina Weibo (the largest Chinese micro-blogging website) and other social networking platforms could encourage members of the Elders’ generation to engage with these important issues.

“We should not grow ‘at any cost’. We need to direct our growth in a way that reduces inequality and poverty, and preserves the environment.”

Brazilian activist Pedro Telles joins former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso to answer questions from The Elders’ supporters about Brazil’s role as an emerging economic power, the Rio+20 negotiations, and the impact of civil society mobilisation at the conference.

Watch the video Q&A - and find more Elders+Youngers Q&As

The Youngers joined their fellow activists in posting messages about the Rio+20 summit at the main conference building, Rio Centro.

“The future belongs to them; I have the past, they have the future." Fernando Henrique Cardoso emphasises the role of the Youngers at the Elders+Youngers press conference in Rio.

Read the press release: The success or failure of Rio+20 will be a defining moment for today’s youth

“We have to keep confident, to pick the good pieces from the document and run with what we now have. We know that this is our duty, our responsibility it's what we have to do for the coming generations."

Gro Harlem Brundtland speaking at a United Nations Foundation dinner, where she received from Ted Turner an award marking 25 years since the seminal report of the World Commission on Environment the ‘Brundtland Commission’ - and commemorating her work towards sustainable development.

“It has been really inspiring and empowering to be in this dialogue with you. You have not told us to 'calm down', that we don't need to be radical; you have instead told us that we have the power to make change happen and that is what we need to hear!"

Swedish activist Sara Svensson gives a speech at the dinner honouring Gro Harlem Brundtland’s contribution to sustainable development.

At a side event on Energy, Gender and Economic Growth with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Gro Harlem Brundtland spoke about women’s participation in the economy, arguing that it is both a human right and something that is economically valuable. She welcomed the inclusion of clean energy in the Rio+20 Outcome Document, emphasising its centrality to the economy, the environment and to the well-being of women and their communities.

The event was organised by the Norwegian government and co-hosted by The Elders, UN Foundation and World Bank.

Gro Harlem Brundtland is interviewed on her way to the Women Leaders’ Summit on the Future Women Want.

"I am really impressed by most of this text, but there must be no backsliding on fundamental principles. This is not the signal to send to women today."

Speaking at the Women Leaders’ Summit on ‘the Future Women Want’, Mary Robinson emphasised the importance of ensuring reproductive rights were included in the draft of the Rio+20 Outcome Document.

Fellow Elder Gro Harlem Brundtland also spoke at the event, as did Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, among other women leaders.

Read Mary Robinson’s opinion piece on Rio: Was Rio+20 a failure of political leadership?

Though disappointed with the outcome of the Rio+20 conference, both the Elders and Youngers are determined to continue working and mobilising for a sustainable development future.

“I know that far from becoming disillusioned, you and your peers will work harder than ever to drive the change we need,” Gro Harlem Brundtland told the Youngers.

In a final week of debate, they reflect on Rio+20 and ask ‘what next?’

Photos: Cristina Lacerda | Manoela Ferreira | The Elders

On the Web
@TheElders #scpoelders #sustainability and #business seem at odds where wages are based on #consumption. How do we morph to something better
#Sustainability is a key theme of #WD2013. Here’s some recent research on how #women are responding to #climatechange…
Excellent piece from @Justmeans! MT @taigacompany: What do corporate #sustainability goals for 2020 really mean?… #CSR
Sustainability and CSR still have their skeptics. Interesting article:… #PRSAIssuesTrends #CSR #sustainability #PR
MT @GuardianSustBiz For humanity 2 live w/in natural limits, consumption patterns must radically change… #sustainability
Rio+20: Let's prioritise social #sustainability… v
500-MW #Solar Plant to Be Built in Morocco:… #MENA #sustainability
Majority of Businesses Say #Sustainability Is Vital To Growth | Sustainable Brands… via @SustainBrands
Joel Rosenberg: From consumers to producers – the emergence of new urban farmers… #csr #sustainability
Wind turbine creates water from thin air… #water #wind #sustainability #solutions
Investors play a crucial role in sustainable palm oil… #sustainability
"The Impossible Hamster" - why things in nature only grow until a certain size.… #Sustainability #SD #RioPlus20
#Sustainability Pays:How 2 present case 2 the #board.Join me at Responsible Business Summit @Ethical_Corp #csr #green…
MT @GuardianSustBiz: time 4 biz leaders to move away from short term shareholder gain towards long term #sustainability…
New prAna Blog: Why Organic Is Worth Investing In // Earth Day Series… #organic #prAna #green #sustainability
looking for #sustainability gurus to share their knowledge and tips this month on my blog. Interested in contributing? Let me know!
Green Business: It's about Leadership, Mr Cameron… #csr #climate #sustainability #in


Please read our moderation policy before commenting

  • All comments posted on will be moderated before publication.
  • In making comments, please be constructive and treat others with respect.
  • Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, inflammatory statements or accusations, personal attacks, discriminatory or abusive language will not be posted.
  • Links: Please do link to other relevant sites and articles to enrich the debate. Please do not link to inappropriate or offensive websites or use signature links in your post.
The Elders are independent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.

Sign up to receive monthly newsletters from The Elders.

We will occasionally send you other special updates and news, but we'll never share your email address with third parties.

Visit the archive to see our past newsletters.

The Elders website uses cookies. Click here to accept the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy when visiting this site.