Highlighting Progress, Initiatives, Youth Speakers Stress They Must Be Equal Partners in Making Decisions about Worldwide Challenges, as Forum Begins
Young people must be included as equal partners in finding solutions and making decisions about the world’s most pressing challenges, speakers told the Economic and Social Council’s annual Youth Forum today, spotlighting how youth around the world are advancing progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and how the United Nations, Member States and other stakeholders should support their greater meaningful participation.
The three-day Youth Forum — the main platform for youth to share their ideas at the global level — meets today through 27 April under the theme “Accelerating the COVID-19 Recovery and Full Implementation of the 2030 Agenda with and for Youth”. It will connect with key United Nations processes and events in 2023, especially the high-level political forum on sustainable development under the Council’s auspices in July, and the SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] Summit, in September.
In her opening remarks Jayathma Wickramanayake, United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, stressed: “All young people must be empowered to reach their full potential, have access to the resources needed and can contribute to decision making at all levels — alongside their Governments, and other stakeholders as equal partners and not mere beneficiaries.” The United Nations has taken important steps in that direction, she said, urging decision-makers to strive for concrete commitments and action to deliver on young people’s demands.
Jevanic Henry, Member of the Secretary-General Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, in that vein, emphasized: “We cannot allow the creation of a post COVID-19 ‘cemetery of youth ideas’ which will put the 2030 Agenda in jeopardy.” Those in power who continue to idle must step up or be pushed out, as young people can and have the right to take the keys to drive forward to sustainability. He called on development partners, private sector and Governments to scale up investment in youth research and innovation, and to provide technical and financial support for youth-led sustainability efforts.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in a pre-recorded video message, said: "Our world needs you more than ever.” Pointing to the challenges posed by climate change, conflict, poverty and inequalities, he said developing solutions side by side with young people is the driving force of this Forum’s discussion. It is the reason behind the new United Nations Youth Office that will be operational this year and at the heart of the Organization’s policy brief launched last week for meaningful youth participation.
“Even when you were at the table, you were left out of decisions that would affect you the most,” he pointed out. The policy brief calls on Governments to expand and strengthen youth participation at all levels of decision-making, including establishing a dedicated youth consultation mechanism in every country in the world and a global standard on meaningful youth participation, he said, detailing its other recommendations. “Let’s shape a better future. Let’s do it together,” he declared.
In the ensuing conversation, moderated by Sherwin Bryce-Pease, Bureau Chief and Correspondent at the United Nations of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), together with five youth leaders, showcased how they are leveraging their expertise and creative approaches towards accelerating the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Pointing to gaps in youth engagement, they also suggested ways to further their involvement in critical processes.
Mr. Steiner highlighted that young people are today’s leaders and not for tomorrow. UNDP, through its Accelerator Labs, is working in over 100 countries to connect with young leaders who are already finding solutions to the challenges facing their communities and countries, allowing a more equitable relationship between young people and UNDP as solution co-creators.
Jichen Liu, Founder of Clear Plate and 2020 Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals, on that note, encouraged young people to be change-makers. It is not a professional skill, but a mode of thinking and a sense of discovery for solving social problems. In 2018, he founded Clear Plate, a mobile application, now with nearly 10 million users, whose mission is to inspire people to take action to reduce food waste.
Mai Sami Ahmed, Advocacy Officer Fellow from Save the Children and Next Generation Fellow from the United Nations Foundation, said that, while people under the age of 18 constitute more than 30 per cent of the world’s population, their participation is still very much ad hoc. Organizations such as Save the Children have been working to support children's meaningful participation in several United Nations processes, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child reporting. Informal processes must be formalized and institutionalized, she stressed, calling for more flexible funding from Governments, private entities and charitable organizations to ensure that child participation is prioritized at the United Nations.
Shantel Marekera, 2018 Millennium Fellow, Rhodes Scholar and Founder of Little Dreamers Foundation, challenged Member States, the private sector, United Nations agencies and philanthropies to create an enabling environment for equitable and inclusive growth. “We need to move from speeches and policy briefs,” she said, calling on young people to get their hands dirty and put in the work.
Other youth speakers, including Isidora Guzmán Silva, Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals and Founder of "Encuetra tu Lugar" (Find Your Place), highlighted that barriers to youth engagement are based on different contexts, including one’s race, gender or disability, and must be recognized as such to understand the different realities faced by young people.
Adding to that, Laura Lock, President of the Cambridge Climate Society, stressed the need to provide youth with support, skills and training to critically engage and best represent themselves.
A “spotlight session” on people and planet then followed where youth speakers shared their work to protect the planet, its oceans and biodiversity.
Gibson Kawago of Tanzania, Climate Entrepreneur, Founder of WAGA & Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals, said his company recycles and repurposes laptop batteries to create lithium-ion batteries, allowing kerosene lamps to be replaced with lighting provided by laptop batteries. Knowing how to take climate action and actually taking steps to do it are two different things, he pointed out, urging all young people to join together to fight the climate crisis.
Eddy Frank Vasquez of the Dominican Republic, Climate Activist, Founder of Juventud Sostenible and Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals, said his organization’s youth ocean ambassadors help raise awareness of the dangers of plastic pollution and monitor plastics on the coastline. Juventud Sostenible has elaborated on policy recommendations and worked with the Government to see how the single-use-plastic prohibition and ban can be developed in other countries, he said.
The Youth Forum then began the first of two ministerial round-table discussions among ministers, Government representatives and youth organizations and delegations about national progress in implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with and for youth.
Addressing Sustainable Development Goals 6 on clean water and sanitation, 7 on affordable and clean energy, 9 on industry, innovation and infrastructure, 11 on sustainable cities and communities and 17 on partnerships for the Goals, speakers discussed how young people are driving change and being supported by national policies, institutions and initiatives.
Mayada Adil, Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals, said she is a doctor, woman and Sudanese in exile. Drawing attention to the crisis ongoing in her country, she said young people are performing life-saving work in managing the humanitarian crisis. Stressing the need to provide Sudanese youth with support, she called on the international community to deliver vital materials, including medical supplies. She further called on Member States to put pressure on involved parties to implement a ceasefire.
Zsófia Nagy-Vargha, Deputy State Secretary for Youth, Ministry of Culture and Innovation of Hungary, in a pre-recorded video message, said that, in cooperation with the National Youth Council of Hungary, the Deputy State Secretariat coordinated programmes and allocated funds for the activities of young people and the integration of Ukrainian youth. The Government’s most efficient measure has been a complete personal tax exemption for people under the age of 25, which was introduced to support them financially and motivate them to enter the labour market.
Csenge Offenbächer, United Nations youth delegate of Hungary, said that, despite economic uncertainty, social inequality and environmental degradation, challenges, young people show resilience and determination to creating a better world. “We are not content with the status quo, and we are determined to create a better future for ourselves and for the generations to come,” she stressed.
Ronald Luiz dos Santos, National Youth Secretary of Brazil, underscored that, to ensure lasting solutions, youth must play a leading role in peacebuilding, democracy and in the establishment of new forms of global governance and public policies at all levels. This year, Brazil will hold the fourth National Youth Conference, which should gather more than 600,000 young people. Plenary sessions will be organized throughout the country to establish the budget plan for the next four years, he added.
Penny Dalkou, Climate Justice Advocate and Be Seen Be Heard youth representative, participating virtually, on that note, said the Be Seen Be Heard campaign’s goal is to support and encourage youth to take action and become leaders of our future while promoting changes in legislative and public policy in a diverse range of countries, including lowering the voting age in municipal, local and national elections, ensuring the meaningful and long-term representation of youth in policy making.
On that note, Nagulendran Kangayatkarasu, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Malaysia, participating virtually, said that an amendment to the Federal Constitution in 2019 lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 years old, making it possible for more than 1.3 million new voters in this age group to vote at the fifteenth General Election in November 2022 for the first time. Malaysian youth continue to participate in the national democratic process and decision making through platforms such as the Malaysia Youth Parliament and the National Youth Consultative Council. Despite the challenges they face, they have contributed to various national programmes, such as the Malaysia Vaccine Support Volunteer programme.
Marie-Céline Zialor, Minister for Youth, Sports and Family of Seychelles, in a pre-recorded video message, said her country is in the process of drafting a brand-new youth policy, adopting the principle that young people, they are not the future, they are the present. Young people in Seychelles through innovation, technology, and post-COVID initiatives will receive the opportunity to make Seychelles better by them and for them, she underscored.
Ronald Cardema, Chairperson of the National Youth Commission of the Philippines, said that his country not only works with youth, but elects and appoints youth leaders in Government. The National Youth Commission supervises the election of 400,000 youth leaders in every locality in his country to help manage water resources and take climate action. He called on Member States to not fight each other, but to fight the destruction of the planet and its resources, to sustain life for future generations.
Also delivering opening remarks were Economic and Social Council President Lachezara Stoeva (Bulgaria) and General Assembly President Csaba Korosi (Hungary).
Other featured speakers during the spotlight session were Karimot Odebode, Poet, Gender Equality Activist, Founder of Black Girl’s Dream and Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals; Hanyuan (Karen) Wang, Climate Tech Entrepreneur, Researcher, Founding Member of Carbonbase and Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals.
The ministerial round table was co-moderated by Mayada Adil, from Sudan; Alejandro Daly, from Venezuela; Tsvetelina Garelova, from Bulgaria; Nhial Deng, from Kenya; Sovanvotey Hok, from Cambodia; and Jacob Blasius, from Denmark.
Also speaking during the ministerial round table were ministers, youth delegates and other Government officials of Fiji, Brazil, Portugal, Slovenia, Jordan, South Sudan, United States, Czech Republic, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Namibia, Lithuania, Ghana, India, Serbia, Denmark, Armenia, Libya, Maldives, Peru, Paraguay, Cuba, Netherlands, Georgia, Viet Nam, Tonga, Ukraine, as did the European Commission Vice-President for Demography and Democracy, as well as youth representatives of the United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the African Union.
Also speaking were representatives of the following organizations: All-China Youth Federation of China; #CovidUnder19, Ibero American Youth Organization; "Red de Jóvenes por el Agua Centroamérica" part of the Global Youth Movement for Water; Inter-Parliamentary Union Young Parliamentarians; SDG7 Youth Constituency; International Organization of La Francophonie to the United Nations; and International Telecommunication Union.