York students speak out to world leaders in Rio

A group of students from The Joseph Rowntree School will be speaking out about the future of children and our planet to world leaders at the Rio +20 Earth Summit in June.

Inspired by the forthcoming global conference in Brazil, the Year 8 students are organising their own event at which they will deliver a powerful speech via video link-up, to be relayed to delegates from countries around the world.

The students, aged 12 and 13, are working alongside a team from the University of York to stage a celebration of sustainability on 21 June to coincide with the Rio summit. The Joseph Rowntree School event, which is aimed at the wider community, is called the ‘Jo Rio Earth Summit’ and will emphasise the ‘local to global’ message about responsibility for the planet.

The Jo Rio Earth Summit will also be used to launch a sustainability agenda for all students and staff at the school, which already has a biomass boiler, a sedum roof and uses a rainwater harvesting system to flush the toilets.

The students have been working on a project to communicate sustainability as part of the Good Life Initiative with researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) at the University of York, which is facilitating the link to the Rio +20 Summit through its international network.

A group of 20 students has been meeting with the University’s SEI Good Life team every Wednesday lunchtime to plan the ambitious event, which students hope will raise awareness of the issues as well as encourage individuals to change their lifestyles by making personal pledges.

Student Lucy Freer, 13, said, “I want to help send a message across the world. It’s fun to express our ideas and it’s great to be a little part in something big.”

“I got involved because I want to make my future a better place,” said Henry-James Hatton, 12. “I want to choose my future and make it my own. It’s not someone else’s to make.”

Jenni-Rose Ashby, 13, said: “I don’t want to live in a world where I have no resources to be able to live a happy life. I want to be able to change our ways. I got involved because I want to make a difference.”

The students have invited local residents, VIPs and dignitaries to the event in June and have also written to Blue Peter, The One Show and Newsround.

“The students have been so committed and involved with this,” said Assistant Head Teacher Elaine Armstrong, who has been working with the school group. “It’s fantastic to see such a buzz and to know that these wonderful young people are so willing to put themselves forward and help make the change.”

Steve Cinderby, Deputy Director of the Stockholm Environment at the University of York, said: “The Good Life Initiative is working with New Earswick residents to encourage sustainable lifestyles and we’re thrilled at the way the students at the Joseph Rowntree School have risen to the challenge. We hope they will turn out to be environmental champions by spreading the message to their peers, their local community ““ and to the world.”

The Jo Rio Earth Summit takes place from 4 to 8pm on Thursday, 21 June and will also feature debate, drama, music, dance and entertainment, food and drink and stalls from community groups, local organisations and companies.