More than 100 young professionals from around the globe recently gathered in downtown Toronto to discuss the link between the global economy and the environment and what they feel should be the priorities discussed at the upcoming G20 Summit.
Called the G-20Y Summit, the inaugural event brought together delegates from the majority of the G20 nations for a five-day conference at the Downtown Eaton Centre Marriott Hotel.
Mayor David Miller welcomed the delegates by sharing a few examples of what Toronto is doing to better the environment, while fostering its economy.
Miller pointed to the Tower Renewal Program, where residential and commercial highrise buildings in Toronto are upgraded and receive green energy retrofits, as well as the city's goal to plant more trees.
He said a solid financial commitment is needed from the provincial government for expanding the GTA's transit network adding expansion would create more jobs, while helping reduce smog and other negative impacts on the environment.
"In Toronto our challenge, I think, is adapting to the future," said Miller, referring to the somewhat disturbing findings of the Toronto Board of Trade's recent Report Card on Prosperity.
He also shared his disappointment with the delegates that not all countries at last year's Copenhagen Climate Change Summit were on board with initiatives that benefit both the environment as well as the economy.
"Pollution-based prosperity never works and eventually you have to pay for the cost of clean up... It's quite clear there needs to be a price on pollution," he said, calling it a privilege to speak to the world's future leaders.
"You've made a real commitment to the future of this planet."
Ksenia Khoruzhnikova chairs the summit's international organizing committee. The International Youth Diplomacy League, a non-governmental organization focused on international relations and public diplomacy, founded the conference.
"In my opinion, it's very important we begin this international civil society project. We strongly believe this project will design the world for the next 15 to 20 years," she said.
Khoruzhnikova said the summit is a chance for the future leaders in attendance to formulate opinions and share ideas about the global economy and the environment, which she hopes they'll bring back to their home countries and implement down the line.
Victor Philippenko is one of those future leaders.
Born and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia but now living and working in Germany, Philippenko is the president of a NGO called the Organization of Russian Speaking Leaders in Europe.
A member of the G-20Y summit's organizing committee as well as one of its moderators, he has worked in both the renewable (solar) energy sector as well as the financial sector.
"There's really a huge business opportunity in the area of climate and climate change," said Philippenko adding it's inevitable human beings around the globe will be impacted socially, not to mention physically, by climate change.
"Young leaders have a responsibility to come together regardless of their nationality. Governments can't solve climate change alone."
Admitting the economy and the environment are complex and often uncomfortable topics, Philippenko said he stays motivated by remembering that the work he'll do over the course of his lifetime is to ensure his children live in an even better world.
Mexican businessman, David Coppel, also said difficult decisions need to be made when it comes to the global economy and the environment.
Coppel said it's a tough call when governments, like Mexico's, are faced with expensive external economic burdens for addressing climate change while they continuously struggle to elevate their citizens' socio-economic status.
"I think every decision has to be measured," he said, adding all perspectives must be examined when thinking about climate change and the economy.
"(This Summit) is a chance to see how different countries think, share opinions and perspectives, and come up with priorities."
University of Toronto professor and environmental entrepreneur Sheldon Joseph was a presenter at the G-20Y Summit discussing climate change and global greening initiatives.
Joseph said the crux of his presentation was to dispel the myths that "green" products are more ineffective and cost more.
He also said it's imperative the Canadian government provide ongoing funding and support for the development of innovative green products.
"We all have the same problem more or less. Now the question is do we solve it together or is it just more words," said Joseph, who also conducts research in the bio-economy field.
"I'm a doer, not a talker but you need money to do."
Liberty Village entrepreneur Lynda Zugec attended the summit to learn more about the supports for international collaboration.
Zugec, who runs an international consulting firm that connects upper level post-secondary students with industry professionals, said she's encouraged by the positive outlook and open-mindedness of the delegates.
The G-20Y Summit's delegates broke off into smaller working groups after a series of presentations to prepare a draft communique outlining their priorities for the environment and the economy. Some of the most important issues they want put on the G20 agenda include strengthening financial stability and the international financial regulatory system, responding to the challenge of climate change, inclusive governance of the international financial architecture, and responsible entrepreneurship for inclusive development and fighting poverty. The final document will be presented to the G20 leaders prior to their meeting this June in Toronto.
The next G-20Y Summit will take place in 2011 in France.