The world’s youth took their rightful place in the arena of international development this week, as hundreds of young leaders gathered at UN headquarters in New York to participate in the annual Economic and Social Council’s (ECOSOC) Youth Forum. ECOSOC President Martin Sajdik welcomed the young participants and reiterated their vital role in the transition from the Millennium Development goals to the Sustainable Development Goals.
“We cannot discuss the future development goals without bringing the voices of young people into discussions to give them the opportunity to shape the future they want,” Sajdik said.
Unique opportunities and challenges
1.8 billion people strong, this generation of youth is the largest the world has ever seen. They represent one quarter of the world’s population and 90 percent of them live in developing countries. They also face unique opportunities and challenges, from high unemployment rates and climate change, to specific human development threats such as Ebola and armed conflict.
“But I am thoroughly convinced that the future may be different,” Sajdik asserted. “The future will be different if young people are active participants and partners in decision making and governance processes at all levels.”
“Ours is the first generation with the potential to end poverty – and the last to act to avoid the worst effects of climate change,” underscored UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as he addressed the forum.
The Secretary-General called upon young people to help the international community “drive sustainable development that is people-centred and planet-sensitive, and fight injustice and inequality with solidarity so no one is left behind.”
“Be an active global citizen,” Ban Ki-moon continued. “You may come from many different countries, but after all we are member of the same family, on this planet earth.”
New development agenda
The Youth Forum has been held at UN headquarters annually since 2012, providing a platform for youth to discuss issues most important to them. This year, the forum has extra momentum, as 2015 marks the end of the Millennium Development Goals, and the implementation of the new development agenda.
“All of you are here at a crucial time for people and our planet,” Ban Ki-moon declared. “2015 is not just another year – it is a chance to change the course of history.”
The Secretary-General laid out three major priorities for the upcoming year: “To complete the Millennium Development Goals; to agree on transformative and universal actions for sustainable development; and to achieve a new, meaningful, universal climate agreement.”
On behalf of UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo, Navid Hanif, Director of UN DESA’s Office for ECOSOC Support and Coordination, addressed the young delegates during the closing session of the event. He affirmed that these goals won’t be achieved without having youth be part of the conversation: “Young people are vital to the achievement of all of these goals,” he said. “Your voice and actions as youth have the power to transform the world in which we live.”
Hanif acknowledged the tireless work that many of the young delegates have put in over the past few years to ensure dignity and shared prosperity for all. “We have borne witness to your powerful capabilities over the past few years, he said, “When in the face of economic recessions and staggering youth unemployment figures, you came up with creative and innovative ways to help find solutions to the challenges you faced.”
As the United Nations moves forward into a year of action and a new development framework, the youth forum once again showed that young people are not only willing to help implement the sustainable development agenda, they are ready to stand for a sustainable, inclusive world of dignity for all.