– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly

8 April2019

Your Excellency, Inga Rhonda King, President of ECOSOC,

Ms Jayathma Wickramanayake, UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth,

Ministers for Youth,


Ms Yolanda Joab, our Keynote Speaker today,

Youth leaders, here and abroad following this historical forum.

It is a pleasure to speak at this year’s Economic and Social Council Youth Forum. Since its inception in 2012, this Forum has become one of the most important mechanisms for young people to shape implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  

And this year, your task is especially important.

Your discussions will not only inform the annual High-Level Political Forum in July. They will also feed into the HLPF to be held this September under the auspices of the General Assembly. This will be the first comprehensive stock-take – and drive to scale-up solutions – at the level of heads of state and government.

Also in September, the Secretary-General will hold a Climate Action Summit, which – I hope – will see leaders from all sectors present concrete initiatives to raise ambition dramatically as we move to implement the Paris Agreement in 2020. Your active engagement in the Summit is much needed to ensure success.

These events cannot be “talk shops”. They cannot be “photo ops”.

Two weeks ago, I convened a High-Level Meeting on Climate and Sustainable Development For All – which benefitted greatly from the participation of 80 youth representatives. One of them, Sheddona Richardson from Grenada, made a powerful speech, with carefully chosen words.

She said: “In this moment, I choose to believe that you, our global leaders, will not just pay lip service to the need to address the grave challenges we face. That you will fully embrace the task before you and work towards finding pathways for climate and sustainable development for all.”

And this was precisely what our meeting set out to do. Our discussions highlighted the huge opportunities that lie in ambitious action: the economic benefits of climate-smart growth, estimated to be 26 trillion dollars by 2030; the net gain of 11.6 million jobs by 2050 that energy transformation could deliver.

And three messages emerged loud and clear:

First – we need truly inclusive intergenerational cooperation. Too often, we speak about young people as problems to be solved. And yes, there are challenges we need to address, such as creating the 344 million jobs needed to sustain our growing workforce.

But there is no limit to what this generation – the largest, most educated, most globally-minded in history – can deliver. We will hear about Yolanda Joab’s inspiring work later today. Imagine unleashing the potential of 1.8 billion Yolandas. Empowered and Equal Yolandas.

Similarly, while young people are right to be impatient – angry even – at my generation, we must work together if we are to tackle the challenges we face. All of us have responsibilities – young and old.

Second – jobs: more jobs, better jobs, green jobs. Sixty-four million young people are unemployed. More than twice that number make less than a dollar ninety a day. With the right approach, rapid technological advances could improve these figures. Without it, they could get worse.

Later this week – on 10 April – I will convene a high-level meeting on the future of work. I have invited Jolly Amatya to share the ideas that emerge from this Forum at the meeting, and Winnie Mutevu to present on your behalf during a high-level luncheon on scaling up SDG 8 for youth.

And finally – youth, peace and security. We know that the vast majority of fragile and conflict-affected states are struggling to meet the SDGs. We know these states are home to a third of all young people. And we know youth are crucial actors on the ground. I saw their impact firsthand when I was Minister of Foreign Affairs in Ecuador. Last month, I met with young peace activists in Helsinki – who were full of insights from their work in conflict zones. So I am confident that our interactive dialogue tomorrow on youth, peace and security will be fruitful.

While young people are right to be impatient – angry even – at my generation, we must work together if we are to tackle the challenges we face. All of us have responsibilities – young and old.

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés

President of the UN General Assembly

Excellencies and youth representatives,

I want to close by thanking you for your commitment and your leadership. You are key actors in our shared struggle for a fairer and more peaceful planet which requires of course, “youth to be empowered, included and equal”. I wish you every success as you formulate recommendations, and forge plans and partnerships to deliver the SDGs.

For millions of people, the Goals are still a distant dream. It doesn’t have to be that way. The 2030 Agenda is not only a shared ambition. It is our joint plan of action. So let’s get to work.

Thank you.