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Youth Need More Say in Decisions on Climate, Technology to Change Course Where Adults Have Failed, Secretary-General Tells Lahore University of Management Sciences

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at Lahore University of Management Sciences, in Lahore, Pakistan, today:

It is for me an enormous pleasure to be with all of you today, especially in a moment in which we are celebrating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, and we hope to transform the seventy-fifth anniversary in a mutation in the way the United Nations relates with you.

Most political leaders and international organizations have in my opinion four stages in their relations with young people all over the world.

The first stage, hopefully buried in the past, was the stage of indifference.  Politicians, leaders, who think of young people — politics is not a matter for them, they need to learn, they need to study and if their opinions do not really matter; one day they will be adults, then at that moment, they will have to participate in the political and economic life of the country.  For the moment, their role is to learn from us what they should do in the future.

To this stage of indifference, to this era of indifference, follows an era in which politicians started to feel that they were having some problems with young people.  And so probably they should pay some attention, and we entered into the age of propaganda, which was politicians started to talk to young people and to tell young people things, trying to convince them to support them, or to convince them to be integrated in their political movements in different ways, but not really giving them a chance to express their own opinions or to have any kind of influence.

And then, after this age of propaganda, we entered into an age of attention.  Politicians, political leaders start to understand that it was not enough to talk to young people.  It became necessary to listen to young people.  And so, all of a sudden, in political systems, in international organizations, we start to have a number of occasions, a number of situations, a number of mechanisms, a number of instruments in which young people could have a voice, young people could express their feelings, their ideas, their opinions.  But that had not much influence in how things were decided; that had not much influence in how policies were established, or in how international organizations would put their strategies into practice.  And what we want with the seventy-fifth anniversary is to move into the age of participation, which means not only to listen to young people, but to make young peoples’ voice and participation count in ways decisions are made, in which strategies are established, policies are defined and actions are implemented.

And this is, in my opinion, absolutely essential.  It is absolutely essential.  Because in my youth, a philosopher that had a very important influence in the shaping of my political thinking was the German philosopher [Jurgen] Habermas.  Habermas made many contributions.  But one of them was to say that one of the basic, essential phases of a modern democracy is the permanent interflow of communication between the political society and the civil society, and the fact that that interflow of communication has an influence in the way political decisions are made, which means it’s not just that they communicate, it is the fact that the civil society has an influence in the way the political society takes decisions.  And this is what we want.  We want to establish within the United Nations, not only a dialogue in the anniversary, but mechanisms of institutional dialogue and institutional participation, allowing [youth] to have an influence in the way the United Nations shapes its interventions, its decisions and its strategies.

Now, we live in an era in which, when I talk to young people all over the world, there are two things that are constant and correspond to two perceptions that are not necessarily clear in more adult audiences.  One is that people generally believe that we live better today than we lived 50 years ago.  And people generally believe that we will live in 50 years’ time better than what we live today.  There is a sense of optimism in young people all over the world and this is, I think, an extremely important basis to build the future.

And why is it so important that young people effectively participate in the way we shape decisions today?  The main reason for me is because my generation has failed in many aspects, but they failed essentially in three basic questions that will determine the future, unless we are able to change course.  And I do not believe we will be able to change course, if youth has not a much stronger intervention in the way we will build our future.  We failed in climate change, we failed in making globalization work for all, and we are failing in making sure that new technologies will inevitably be a force for good, because we are opening too much space for new technologies to be a threat for the way our societies live.

First, we failed in climate change.  It is clear that climate change became the defining issue of our time.  But it’s clear that, even today, we do not yet have enough political will to take the decisions necessary to reverse the climate emergency in which we live.  We see record levels of concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  We see emissions still growing.  We see record levels in the temperature both on land and in the seas.  We see record levels in the progressive rise of water levels, we see glaciers melting, corals bleaching, we see nature being dramatically impacted by humankind, we can say that there is a war between humankind and nature, and nature is striking back and striking back with an enormous power.  And we have not yet taken the decisions that are necessary to reverse these trends.  We had a failure in the COP-25 [twenty-fifth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change], as you noticed in Madrid.  We must absolutely be sure that we are able to take decisions in the world, making a commitment to temperatures not rising more than 1.5 degrees, being carbon-neutral in 2050, and having a dramatic reduction in the emissions in the next decade.  And who’s leading today in the world the movement to make politicians take these decisions?  Young people.  The mobilization of young people has been for us, in the preparation of the climate summit we had in September at the United Nations, the mobilization of young people was the strongest element to force politicians to understand that things have to change.

And so, not only is it the question of listening to young people — it is the question of making sure that those problems that will dramatically impact your life, more than they are already impacting ours, will be dealt with in a way in which you have a determined influence in shaping the policies that will allow us to address climate change.

And then, globalization.  Globalization has produced enormous benefits in the world, increasing wealth, increasing trade, improvements in the living conditions of the majority of the world’s population, reduction in extreme poverty; but the truth is that globalization has not been working for all, many people were left behind.  And we have seen an increase in the levels of inequality.  And this increase in the levels of inequality is today a threat to the social cohesion of our societies.  And it is something that is one of the factors of the disquiet that we feel all over the world.  And that is expressed in demonstrations — some of them, unfortunately, violent — that are shaping the basis of political systems in so many countries in the world.

We need to make sure that we find a way to make globalization work for all — to be able to leave no one behind.  We have presented a blueprint for that, which is the Agenda 2030 — the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  But what we are seeing is that things are still moving in a way in which, if the present trend is maintained, we will come to 2030 with the Sustainable Development Goals not reached, being somewhere halfway between what we are today and where we want to be in 2030.

And the truth is that, again, there is a lack of political will.  And that lack of political will can only be overcome if those that believe, and will be determined in the next decades, will be able to have a much stronger influence in the way economic strategies are defined, social policies are defined and educational policies are defined, to make sure that we are able to have a fair globalization, to have each country with economic strategies, development strategies that are indeed aiming at the whole of the population, and to make sure we leave no one behind, and [in] leaving no one behind, there is a central question of equality, which is the gender question that was mentioned.

We still live, let’s be frank, in a male-dominated world, with a male-dominated culture, and we still have enormous difficulties for women to be able to play the role that they must play for our world, to be more fair, more compassionate and more able to avoid the permanent cycles of conflict in which we have lived.  Conflict is largely the result of male-dominated societies, the aggressiveness of male-dominated societies.  And we believe that in a world where there is effective parity, and we have reached parity now at the United Nations at the top level.   We have 90 USGs and ASGs, which are the Under-Secretaries-General and Assistant Secretaries-General — 90 men and 90 women and we are aiming at full parity in 2028 at all levels.  I believe a world in which men and women are perfectly equal in the definition of the future and the implementation of the future will be a world more at peace, more in justice and more in truth in our relations.

And then, the third thing we are failing is to make sure that we have the full use of the enormous potential of the new technologies.  Digital economy, digital society and artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, enormous potential that we have.  We are leading the fourth industrial revolution, but let’s have no illusions.  Many things can become a nightmare if we are not able to make sure that all these technologies will be a force for good.  And it will be during the life of the young people of today that you will see the full impact of these technologies in the life of economies and societies, so it’s up to you to have a key role to play now in the shaping of the way the world regulates, or at least the way it creates mechanisms of control for these situations not to become a problem for our societies.

For instance, if one looks at the new technologies, there will be a massive creation of new jobs and the massive destruction of jobs, but they will not be the same.  They will need different capacities, different skills.  So obviously, education must be an absolute priority.  But most of our educational systems, with the exception of your university, are educational systems in which we learn things when what matters now is not to learn things, but to learn how to learn.  Because we will not be doing the things that we are learning in the university, we will be doing different things, we don’t know what.  At the same time, we will need a new generation of social policies, of safety nets, and we will need a new concept of work.  The concept of work that we have today probably will not be valid in 20 or 30 years’ time, and the balance between work, leisure and other activities will probably be different.  We need to be ready for a different world.  And only young people today have the feeling, the sensitiveness, that this is changing and the capacity to start pushing us to adopt the policies that are necessary to prepare the world for these changes.

And then we see how terrorism, hate speech, criminal organizations are using the Internet and cyberspace, not to promote communication, not to promote progress, but to put ourselves against each other, to divide societies, and this is absolutely sure, it’s absolutely necessary that we look into the way the international community comes together in shaping the rules or the norms of the forms of cooperation to allow us to make Internet and cyberspace a source of good.  That requires a knowledge of the digital economy, the digital society, that my generation has lots of difficulties to understand, and it’s the young generation, that now is digital to a certain extent, that will be able to shape this kind of digital age.

And then the worst risks, if you look at artificial intelligence and how it’s progressing: One of the things that I’ve been asking for is a total ban on autonomous weapons.  Weapons that will be able to kill people without any interference of human beings to choose who they kill and when they kill, without any form of accountability.  These are things that in my opinion should be banned.

But in all those questions in which new technologies will dramatically affect our economies, our societies, our way of life, we are not yet fully able to understand them, and I feel the young generation is much more able to do it than my generation that is still very analog, if I might say, and still have some difficulties in knowing exactly how to handle some of the new devices that are available in the market.  And so, because we need to defeat climate change, because we need to have a fair globalization and to defeat inequality, and because we need to make new technologies a force for good, independently of all other aspects that are relevant and in which we all need to work together, I believe that the youth must have a fundamental voice, but not only a fundamental voice, a fundamental role, in the shaping of our common future.  And I want to make the United Nations seventy-fifth anniversary the moment in which I will try to talk as little as possible and to listen as much as possible.  And so, I’m going to ask you once: Don’t ask me any question; give me your opinions, your ideas and your proposals for the way we should try to shape a better world in the future.

For information media. Not an official record.