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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

21 June 2012


Remarks at MDG Advocates high-level side event "Sustainable Futures: Accelerating progress on the MDGs through Youth Innovations"

I’d like to thank the MDG Advocates for hosting this.

MDG Advocates have contributed their fame, their talent and their expertise in our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. I like to call them superheroes in the fight against poverty. I am extremely grateful for their engagement.

Today we have many other distinguished leaders in this room.

Child rights advocates and community workers, environmentalists and tech wizards.

I am told that one of the young people here cleaned up a garbage dump where he played as a child and built a youth centre on the site.

What a great achievement. What a wonderful symbol of transformation. Once a garbage dump place, now it’s a youth centre.

That is why we are here in Rio. To set us all on a safer, more equitable path.

Young people must be at the centre of building a sustainable future.

In fact, we will agree that the Arab Spring has showed the power of young people and women to shape history.

I believe that is just the beginning. Half the world's population is under 25. We must tap into that enormous source of energy, ideas and potential.

That is why I have made empowering young people as one of my top five priorities.

I’m going to soon appoint a special envoy of the United Nations on youth. We will mobilize the entire UN system around an action plan. The UN Volunteers programme will launch a youth initiative.

But even with these steps, we have a long way to go.

Over the years, there has been a tendency to see young people as passive beneficiaries of aid.

But this needs to change.

After all, young people are at the forefront of innovation, and on the frontlines of the fight against poverty.

The development world needs to catch up with reality!

Above all, the key is to simply listen. Listen to the voices of young people.

I have been constantly and consistently advising the leaders. Listen to the voices of young people and your own people and women.

That’s what I do wherever I go.

Young people tell me they need decent jobs. At this time…we need…at least 75 million people need to get decent jobs.

With all this an enormous number of young people are coming out of school every year.

They told me they don’t have access to jobs. They want much more than jobs.

Young people want a world of peace, justice and harmony. They want policies that respect people and our planet. They want to know that world leaders are on their side.

More than 100 Heads of State or Government are in Rio now. So are the heads of some of the world’s biggest and most influential companies.

This is the time, and this is the place, for them to prove that they are serious about sustainability… serious about the Millennium Development Goals… serious about doing their best jobs for the world’s young people.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am consistently struck by the courage and optimism of young people in dealing with some of the most challenging circumstances: from drought in Africa to floods in Pakistan and earthquakes in Haiti or Japan.

Young people are resourceful.

But they need our support to help them carry out their ideas and make their contributions.

That is why I hope today’s event will lead to an MDG Advocate Youth Innovations Fund. This fund will identify key projects in partnership with UN agencies, and will help “kickstart” the jobs of the future.

I have often said that young people are leaders of tomorrow. But I have changed it. Young people are leaders of today.

They have already been participating in world politics, in transforming this world to a more sustainable path.

We are here to build the world you will inherit. For that, there must be far greater solidarity among generations.

In many ways, my generation has failed young people. Studies show that we are now using 50 per cent more resources than our planet can provide.

By the time today’s university students are in the middle of their careers and raising families, we may need two planet earths.

But we should know that we have only one planet. So, how to make our development and progress sustainable? That is our challenge, that is our imperative, and that is our responsibility.

My generation will be gone soon from the scene. But I sincerely hope today’s young generations will not need any such things as Rio+20 or Rio+60. This is an unacceptable scenario.

We have one planet as I said. That’s a fact.

If we can combine the tremendous influence of our MDG Advocates with the passion of youth, we can create the future we want.

And I thank you very much for your engagement and commitment.