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Young People Must Be Recognized as Agents of Change with Much to Offer, Stresses Deputy Secretary-General at Economic and Social Council Youth Forum

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum on “Youth Taking Action to Implement the 2030 Agenda”, in New York today:

Welcome to the United Nations and to today’s event.  It is very important that you are with us here for the fifth ECOSOC Youth Forum.  I thank you on behalf of the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, for bringing your vitality, energy and aspirations to the United Nations halls and corridors.

This year, more than ever, we look forward to your discussions, your ideas for action.  We are meeting soon after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:  17 goals to rid the world of poverty and build a life of dignity for all on a healthy planet.

The Sustainable Development Goals are people-centred, universal, inclusive and interdependent.  They can determine your future and set the path to a world where balance and equity can be found and where no one is to be left behind.  Young people around the world were crucial in shaping the 2030 Agenda.  You helped build a transformative, integrated and interrelated agenda.  I call it a “twenty-first century Declaration of Interdependence”.  Now comes the real test:  making it happen, making it a reality.  Our work begins with you now, with us together at the start of the first year of implementation.

Let us recall the background and the realities.  Every day, around the world, great numbers of young people are held back and stymied by poverty.  They are stricken by disease.  They are denied access to quality education and health care.  They are devastated by violence and discrimination.  They are displaced by war, famine and climate change.

Far too often, young people have been side-lined from decision making, have had little or no say over the course of policies and actions that affect them.  This has, for far too many young people, led to frustration and hopelessness, particularly if they are also facing persistent unemployment.  This situation must change.  Young people must be recognized for who they, you, are:  agents of change whose contributions will bring benefits both to themselves — yourselves — and to society.

The Secretary-General has made cooperation with young people a priority for the entire United Nations system.  In response, we have seen an unprecedented increase in the number of United Nations initiatives and programmes directed at youth.  Believing that we should work more in partnership with young people, the Secretary-General, in 2013, appointed the first-ever United Nations Special Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi.

And just recently, the Security Council recognized the crucial role of young people as peacebuilders by adopting resolution 2250 (2015) on youth, peace and security.  This is a historic step forward to recognizing the role and potential of young people in the world today for peace and security.  It may play the same role for young people and the world as the legendary Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) has played for women over the years.

We need you to engage in and share life-changing projects at the grassroots level.  We look to you to work with local leaders, to advocate for action, to be full partners with the national leaders and other participants in this development agenda.  We rely on you to be initiators and innovators, to be sources of knowledge and trailblazers for action.  We also count on you to counter the extremism and culture of violence, which has regretfully taken hold of some young groups in our countries.  We are all saddened and perplexed to see young people throw their lives away in a desperate search for meaning, adventure or power.  We condemn those who ruthlessly target, recruit and coerce youth for such purposes.

Young people and young leaders are central to the response to these threats and challenges.  That is why empowering youth is a key feature of the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism.

Let me turn to a related issue — and indeed one of the most important challenges of our time — youth employment.  Young women and men around the world continue to face huge obstacles in finding decent work.  Our latest estimates found that nearly 75 million young people around the world are out of work.  Forty per cent of all economically active youth are either unemployed or working in poverty.  Young women face a gender pay gap and a thick glass ceiling in far too many professions.

I know these figures are not merely statistics.  They are your everyday reality.  Many of you and your friends have felt first-hand the frustrating effects of the global economic crisis.  You have experienced having education in hand, but seeing jobs out of reach.  Employment, decent work, particularly for young people, is the backbone of development and stable societies.  I am gratified that this is well reflected across the Sustainable Development Goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda, especially Goal 8.

But, we must do more and better to come to grips with this challenge.  Today, I am glad to see that we are launching the first-ever United Nations system-wide Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth.  The idea for this global initiative came originally from young people.

About 18 months ago, Secretary-General Ban held an event on youth employment at the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva.  As a result of that discussion with young people, he launched a process to step up international action.  He brought together 19 United Nation entities and asked the ILO to take the lead.  I am happy to welcome today my friend and colleague, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, here today.  He will have more to say about this crucial effort.

Let me encourage you to make the most of this initiative.  We invite and welcome youth organizations and young people, Governments, the private sector, foundations, civil society, research institutions and social partners to come together in support of this first-of-its-kind promising project for jobs for youth.  This is our commitment to you.  Let us set the bar high and go to work with hope and determination.

I ask you to take an active role in your societies.  Engage your friends and colleagues.  Commit your leaders and societies to action.  The United Nations needs your talent and energy to mobilize all in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Remember that spelling the word “youth” includes the word “you”.  And also, spelling “young” includes the word “UN” — perhaps not a coincidence.  On words, let me close on another word; the word “together” is perhaps the most important word in the world today.  Let us spare no effort to come together in global solidarity, for young people and for our common future on Mother Earth.  We cannot and must not fail.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.