ECOSOC Youth Forum

– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, at ECOSOC Youth Forum



Good morning, everyone and welcome to the United Nations.

Over the next two days, we will hear a lot of new voices.

But we will also hear many that we have heard before. Mine is one of them.

The 2018 Youth Forum is designed for both kinds of voices. It gives a platform to those who do not usually get to speak in rooms like this one. And, it ensures that those who have spoken before – often many times – share the floor with those who have not.

All of these voices will be discussing an important topic: the role for young people in building sustainable and resilient urban and rural communities

I now want to make three main points – to frame these discussions. The first is about the environment. Because, we cannot talk about sustainable and resilient communities without focusing on the planet which houses them.

And frankly, it is not in great shape. Because, the fact is: we are consuming at a faster rate than our planet can keep up. Its capacity to maintain our lifestyles is eroding.

The variety and number of plants and animals are dwindling. We are running out of water – even though many people still lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Global warming is not slowing down. We continue to depend heavily on fossil fuels, to meet our energy needs. And, climate change is making the gap between the rich and the poor wider.

There has to be a tipping point. And we are inching closer to it.

If we want to reverse these trends, we need young people. In Nairobi, I met with a group of sustainability entrepreneurs. They included a young woman, from Burkina Faso. She discovered that plant-based purification can improve access to drinking water, as well as agricultural yields. I also met a young man from Yemen. He has developed a way to turn decomposing organic waste into a source of energy for households.

These are the kinds of innovations we need. They can ensure the sustainability of our planet. And, more and more, they are coming from young people. Therefore, an investment in youth is not an altruistic act; it is an investment in all of our futures.

The second point I want to make today is that Sustainable Development is crucial for both urban and rural communities. However, if we neglect young people, we will not achieve a single SDG.

This is true for goals related to water, energy, consumption habits, and sustainable cities. But, also, for the entire 2030 Agenda. If we leave young people out, we might still see some signs of growth and development. But they will be neither inclusive, nor sustainable.

We must better address the link between young people and development.

And, this includes renewed focus on youth unemployment.

According to the International Labour Organization, there are still over 70 million unemployed young people in the world. And, unemployment is not the only problem. Nearly 40% of young workers are living in poverty. These statistics get even worse in the case of young women. Their labour force participation is nearly 17% lower than that of young men.

We need new discussions, and new initiatives. We need to widen pathways to formal employment. We need to build skills. We need an innovative approach to education.

This will allow us all to gain. Because, young people are also at the forefront of innovative financing mechanisms – from cryptocurrencies to crowd funding. So, when it comes to growth and development, young people are a resource – not a recipient.

As my third point, I want to talk about peace. Because no community can be sustainable or resilient without it.

For decades, we focused on the link between young people and conflict. This was a mistake. It meant that we squandered one of our most valuable resources for peace.

The fact is: the vast majority of young people are passionate, and active, for the cause of peace – not violence.

Things are changing. The United Nations’ Security Council has put the role of young people in preventing conflicts and building peace on its agenda. And, we have seen stronger youth engagement in efforts to prevent violent extremism.

We need even more dialogue – not just about young people, but with young people. The United Nations should act as a greenhouse for partnerships. It must be the bridge between young people with ideas, and the support structures which can help to bring these ideas to life.


President of the UN General Assembly

I will be convening a High-Level Meeting on Sustaining Peace this April. Young people will be on the panels. And in the seats.

However, none of this is enough.

We need even more dialogue – not just about young people, but with young people. The United Nations should act as a greenhouse for partnerships. It must be the bridge between young people with ideas, and the support structures which can help to bring these ideas to life.

I will be convening a Youth Dialogue in May. Its aim is to take forward many of the discussions and ideas arising from this forum – as well as to create a space for new ones.

I will also prioritise the engagement of young people in the other two events my office has planned to support Sustainable Development Goal implementation: a high-level event on water, in March, and an innovative financing meeting, in June.

I am committed to youth and to bringing the United Nations closer to young people. At 11 am today I will have my second in a series of twitter chats, this time, on the topic “Youth for a Sustainable Planet”. I encourage you all to join me live on twitter.


Excellencies and young friends,

I want to conclude with a blunt truth: our international system simply was not set up for young people. If you look at photographs of the signing of the UN Charter, you will not see any young men or young women. That is why, for years, young people were not seen – and were not heard – in the conference rooms, like this one.

Things are changing – but they need to change at a faster pace. Young people can no longer be dismissed as the rebel fighters; the terrorists; the disenfranchised. They are the innovators, the solution-finders; the social and environmental entrepreneurs.

We can no longer see them only as the future. If we do that, we risk all of our futures.

They are the now.

That means they need investment now. They need to participate now. They need to speak, now.  And the rest of us need to listen, now.

Thank you.

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