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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Montreal, Canada, 12 February 2016 - Secretary-General's keynote address at McGill University - "Threats and Opportunities: The Power of Young People to Shape a New Future" [as prepared for delivery]


Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for your warm welcome.
I have come to Montreal from New York – and tonight the Montreal Canadiens are in New York to play the Buffalo Sabres.
I am a diplomat so I should not take sides in any situation, including a hockey game – but let me just say: Go, Habs, go!
Ladies and gentlemen,
McGill has sent many people onto the world stage.
A former President of the General Assembly, my Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect, Ms. Jennifer Welsh, human rights experts, political analysts and others have carried McGill’s spirit to the United Nations.
I had the honour of meeting yesterday with one of your most prominent graduates – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
He has recommitted Canada to the United Nations. I am here to recommit the United Nations to partnership with Canada. Thanks to Prime Minister Trudeau, I am sure I can visit here often.
If anyone asks me, “Why do you fight for human rights and equality?” I can say: because it is 2016!
With McGill’s support, I am confident we can boldly go where no man has gone before.
As another famous McGill graduate once said, “Beam me up, Scotty!”
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Sixty years ago, United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld addressed the McGill International Law Association.
He said realists are tempted by the illusion of cynicism – and idealists are tempted by the illusion of Utopia.
In other words, if you are realistic, you may expect too little. If you are idealistic, you may expect too much.
How to balance idealism and realism – that was the essence of some of the best advice I ever received.
In the late 1950s, my middle school principal told me: keep your head above the clouds and your feet firmly planted on the ground – then advance step by step.
This is my approach at the United Nations, where we defend high ideals against tough realities.
At the nexus of the world’s greatest hopes and worst problems, you find young people.
Today, I will speak about the major threats in our world – and how youth can forge solutions with the United Nations.
I will focus on four problems: unemployment, climate change, armed conflict and humanitarian crises.
And four global responses: our Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Climate change agreement, the Security Council resolution on youth and the World Humanitarian Summit.
My message is: you can help turn these ideals into actions.
Distinguished faculty,
Dear students,
Ladies and gentlemen,
The students here are part of the largest generation of youth in history. The world, though 4 billion years old, is still very young, with half of the global population under 25.
Many of you may be preparing to look for a job. Over the next decade, the world will need 600 million new jobs for all the new workers.
Even in some of the wealthiest countries, nearly half of all young adults are unemployed.
Climate change represents an intergenerational injustice. The older generation has not taken care of the planet that young people inherit.
The world is also ripped apart by conflicts.
Some 600 million young people live in countries that are fragile or war-torn.
There are now 60 million refugees and displaced people – more than at any time since the end of the Second World War. Thousands die each year searching for what everyone deserves: safety, opportunity and peace.
Yesterday, I visited with some Syrian refugees. By chance, there was a man there I had met before, when he was in a refugee camp in Jordan. Thanks to Canada, he is here, full of appreciation for this country and its warm people.
When I go to refugee camps, I am especially concerned about young children who might think they will spend their whole future there.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Youth are targeted by violent extremists – and sometimes blamed for their actions. We see sensational headlines about young killers, or young women who join terrorist movements, or young victims. This completely distorted picture fails to show that the vast majority of young people want peace.
I stand with them.
With all these global threats, we cannot just worry about young people – or work for them.
We have to invest youth, and work with them for a new future.
We have to put young people in influential positions.
That is why I appointed the first-ever Youth Envoy at the United Nations, Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi, when he was 28 years old.
He is connecting the UN to young people and young people to the UN.
This is essential for our new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
World leaders adopted it last September to end the tyranny of poverty.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are for all countries – rich and poor.
They are a promise to all people – especially young people, who can hold their governments accountable for these promises, and help achieve them.
Last week, 800 young participants at our UN Economic and Social Council Youth Forum discussed how youth can carry out the 2030 Agenda.
My Special Envoy will also convene a Global Youth Partnership for the SDGs with a “Youth Gateway” to engage more young people in realizing the Goals.
And just ten days ago, the United Nations launched the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs.
This is an exciting plan to promote green jobs for young people, create quality apprenticeships, expand digital skills and build tech hubs.
Youth have been leading on climate action – which is essential to sustainable development.
I was impressed by the more than 5,000 young people who adopted a Youth Manifesto ahead of the Paris climate talks last December.
You can all be part of the transition to a low-carbon future.
You are consumers, innovators and voters.
You can invest in green solutions, invent new technologies, and elect leaders who are committed to climate action. 
You can be the entrepreneurs who do more than fill jobs – because you create them.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We cannot stop to celebrate global agreements because we are still confronting global threats.
The war in Syria has dragged into its sixth year, with unbearable suffering and mass killing.
Terrorist groups are committing atrocities especially against women and girls. They must be stopped.
Many people worry about the pull of violent extremism on youth.
I would turn this equation around and say that youth can end the pull of violent extremism.
That is why I have been calling for empowering young peacebuilders.
The Security Council answered this call last December by adopting resolution 2250 on youth, peace and security.
This was a major breakthrough for how we make peace at the United Nations.
Until now, young people were generally seen as good enough to fight wars – but not to negotiate peace.
Resolution 2250 is our commitment to address this injustice – and give young people the voice they deserve.
I have also recently presented a new UN Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism that recommends partnership with youth.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The United Nations is now coping with unprecedented needs for relief aid.
The world is setting shameful records.
Ten years ago, the United Nations asked donors for less than three and a half billion dollars for people in need. Now, we are asking for more than five times that amount, or twenty billion.
We have the highest-ever appeals – and the biggest-ever shortfalls.
To address these enormous challenges, we are convening the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit this May in Istanbul.
This will be a major chance to demand results – and chart a course to realize them.
I have just presented to the United Nations General Assembly an agenda for humanity to ensure that no one facing conflict, poverty or disasters is left behind.
Last September, we organized a major youth consultation in Doha to help this Summit succeed.
Humanitarian action must address the concerns of young people.
And we need to mobilize young people in our humanitarian response.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When I was your age, I went overseas for the first time on a trip sponsored by the Red Cross.
My family was poor. The community collected funds so my teacher could buy me a suit.
I wore that suit on a day that would change my life forever – when I visited Washington, DC and met with President Kennedy.
He told us – and I will try to quote as much as I can, “The government leaders don’t always get on, but I think people do. What hopes we can have for the future and our hopes are in all of you [young people]. There are no national boundaries. There is only a question of whether you can extend a helping hand. Whether you help someone in your country or in some foreign city, the general cause is served.”
President Kennedy inspired me to seek a life of public service.
I left the White House resolved to give back to the community that had paid for my first suit – and to my country, to our world.
Each of you has your own version of my first suit. You are not here at McGill just for yourselves, but for our common future.
I call on you to give back as a global citizen. Rise to the challenges of your generation. Join forces with the United Nations for a better world.
Thank you.


Statements on 12 February 2016