30 January 2018
Youth Forum, AM & PM Meetings

Speakers Focus on Role of Young People in Building Sustainable Communities as Economic and Social Council Youth Forum Opens

As the seventh annual Economic and Social Council Youth Forum opened today, playing host to Government ministers and officials, youth delegates and representatives from civil society, discussions focused on the role of young people in the building of sustainable and resilient urban and rural communities.

On the first day of the two-day event, speakers underscored that the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda had been formed by youth and needed the continued participation of young people in order to ensure its implementation.

Council President Marie Chatardová (Czech Republic) said that the world population currently included 1.8 billion young people, which was the largest generation of youth ever.  Young people needed to be heard, and their innovative ideas and plans should be turned into action.  She urged participants at the Forum to come together during the event to find solutions to shared challenges.

The President of the General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia), emphasized that sustainable development was crucial for both urban and rural communities, and that the link between young people and development needed to be better addressed.  If young people were neglected, then the Sustainable Development Goals could not be achieved, he cautioned, noting that young people were passionate about peace, not violence.

Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Jayathma Wickramanayake, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, discussed the Forum and its theme of rural and urban resilience.  Young people were essential in the development of the 2030 Agenda, the Deputy Secretary-General noted, adding that the Agenda itself had been shaped by the voices of youth.  Ms. Mohammed also noted that a key part of the process of the reform of the United Nations, which was being spearheaded by the Secretary-General, was the strengthening of the connection between the Organization with Governments and their youth constituents.

Ms. Wickramanayake agreed, noting that the participation of young people was key with regard to reform.  Gatekeepers, she underscored, needed to be removed for the participation of young people at all times in the discussions held at the United Nations.

During a round-table discussion on the role of youth in building sustainable and resilient rural and urban communities, a number of Government ministers and officials shared their views as well as their countries’ plans and priorities.  Youth delegates, as well as members of civil society, also commented on the role of young people in the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Speakers highlighted national plans and initiatives that incorporated the voices and opinions of young people, with many delegates noting the power of youth to bring about innovation and positive change.  Ministers underscored the strengthening of youth participation in various areas of Government, with youth councils, national youth policies, citizenship education, and, in one case, a Youth Development Index.  Participants overall noted the role of young people as critical agents of change.

The Forum also held breakout sessions that focused on the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.  Those sessions also took into account the themes of the upcoming high-level segment of the Economic and Social Council and the high-level political forum.  Those themes included reference to Sustainable Development Goals 6, 7, 11, 12, 15 and 17.  The results of those sessions were shared in the afternoon plenary session.

The Youth Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 31 January, to conclude its work.

Opening Remarks

MARIE CHATARDOVÁ (Czech Republic), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that the purpose of today’s forum was to discuss how to build sustainable rural and urban communities.  The challenges faced by the planet were daunting.  Some 3 in 10 people worldwide lacked access to safe water at home.  There were 1 billion people who did not have access to modern energy.  The current exploitation of limited natural resources was unsustainable.  There should be a focus on what needed to be done and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals on time.

The world population currently contained 1.8 billion young people, the largest youth generation ever, she said.  The ideas of youth were needed to ensure equitable access to clean water and sanitation and to promote access to the sustainable use of all resources.  Youth was also a key partner to make cities safe and resilient.  She noted that in the current forum, young people had the opportunity to be heard, and they needed to share their innovative ideas and plans so that they could be turned into action.  She urged all delegations and young guests to take advantage of the seating arrangements of the day and interact with one another to delve deeper into the issues and find solutions for the challenges faced.

MIROSLAV LAJČÁK (Slovakia), President of the General Assembly, said that the 2018 Youth Forum was designed for new voices and other voices that had been heard before.  It gave a platform to those who did not usually get to speak in rooms like the current one.  The world’s environment was not in great shape, he said, and the variety and number of plants and animals was dwindling.  Humans were running out of water, even though many still lacked access to safe drinking water and sanitation.  People continued to depend heavily on fossil fuels.  Climate change was making the gap between rich and poor wider.  If those trends were to be reversed, young people were needed.  Innovations ensured the sustainability of the planet.

Sustainable development was crucial for both urban and rural communities, he said.  If young people were neglected, not a single Sustainable Development Goal could be achieved.  The link between young people and development should be better addressed, and new discussions and new initiatives were needed.  Pathways were needed to be widened to formal employment, and an innovative approach to education was needed.  Young people were at the forefront of innovative financing mechanisms, from cryptocurrencies to crowd funding, he said, and with growth and development, young people were a resource, not a recipient.  No community could be sustainable or resilient without peace, he said, and young people were passionate about peace, not violence.  He noted that he would be convening a youth dialogue in May to take forward many of the ideas that arose from the current forum.

SALINA ABRAHAM, President of the International Forestry Students’ Association, said that she was a privileged individual who had grown up with comfort, clean water, and a sense of peace and security.  Her parents, however, were refugees.  They had left Eritrea in a time of war, and raised her in the United States.  She said that she knew something was wrong with that story.  That was not enough, and it was not sustainable development.  Sustainable development meant not having to leave your home, family and culture behind to provide your children with an adequate life.  Sustainable development was not millions of Syrians fleeing war only to be met with rejection.  Sustainable development was having the resources to create new opportunities.

She noted her experiences working with the International Forestry Students’ Association.  That group was a globally organized and locally operated student association that connected and educated forest science students.  It raised awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals to young people.  Forests were the backbone of resilient ecosystems.  They were indispensable for the achievement of the Goals and the realization of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.  There was a need for holistic approaches produced by communities and stakeholders at all levels, she said.

Amina Mohammed, Deputy-Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Jayathma Wickramanayake, the Secretary-Generals’ Envoy on Youth, carried out a conversation about the day’s topic.

Ms. MOHAMMED noted that young people needed to be involved in the 2030 road map for sustainable development.  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was shaped by youth, who were the loudest voice in the My World global survey.  Youth had to continue to do that, she said.  The 2030 Agenda would only work if it took root at the country level.  In terms of United Nations reform, the Organization had to ask itself if it was fit for purpose, and it was not quite at the moment.  Reform would look at strengthening the interface between the Organization and Governments, but also ensuring that the process went beyond the latter to the people and youth.

Ms. WICKRAMANAYAKE said that when reform was spoken about, the participation and meaningful engagement of young people was key, both at the United Nations and the country level.  She noted that when engagement was spoken about, there were not many spaces or resources.  The current Forum had started as little more than a side event in 2012.  Gatekeepers needed to be removed for young people to participate throughout the year in discussions that were had at the United Nations.

Ms. MOHAMMED, responding to Ms. Wickramanayake’s question on how to get youth involved at the United Nations, said that change had arrived at the Organization and it now needed to be sustained.  Youth used technology and that was a way of bringing people into the room.  But those that did not have access needed to be included too.  On reform, the Secretary-General had raised the question of how to become a space for young people, not just in New York but in every entry point.

Interactive Round Table on Role of Youth in Building Sustainable Communities

The Council then held an interactive round-table session on “the role of youth in poverty eradication and promoting prosperity”.  Moderated by Ms. Wickramanayake, it featured Government ministers, youth representatives, United Nations officials and other high-level speakers from around the world.

SHAMMA BINT SOHAIL FARIS AL MAZRUI, Minister for Youth of the United Arab Emirates, said that climate change, artificial intelligence and terrorism were making rapid changes in the way of life.  Her country was taking radical action to involve youth in every area of its Government, and that segment was helping to shape the policies that affected them.  Youth had a place at the table, and in her role she was a young person and a decision maker.  There were 415 young people at the highest level of decision making in federal Government, she said.  Her country also had youth councils at the federal and global levels, as well as in the private sector.  It was also working on having all young people share their voices on a platform called Youth Circles.  There, youth could share their views with decision makers.

IMAM NAHRAWI, Minister for Youth of Indonesia, said that his Government was committed to becoming a role model to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  It had created a framework that involved all stakeholders, including youth, for achieving those Goals.  His country was committed to strengthening youth participation.  It had developed a youth development index to measure the progress of young people in Indonesia.  The index focused on education, well-being, employment, opportunity and gender, among other areas.  Youth had been engaged in the development of the index.  He said that 2018 would be the year Indonesia aligned the Sustainable Development Goals with the country’s young people.

MOA HERRGÅRD, Organizing Partner, Major Group for Children and Youth, said that resilience was a key part of any development plan.  Thousands of youth were mobilized in the lead up to the Sendai Framework.  That tireless work and dedication had made an impact.  A series of the Major Group’s priorities were recognized in the Framework and youth were recognized as agents of change.

MOUNOUNA FOUTSOU, Minister for Youth and Education of Cameroon, said that his country had in 1998 established a law that aimed to train young citizens to be anchored in their culture and yet open to the world.  The curriculum included education, citizenship, and a culture of peace, as well as subjects related to the Sustainable Development Goals.  There was also universal free primary education in Cameroon, he said.  In higher education, an operation had been launched called “one student, one computer”, meaning that computers were being distributed so that students could participate in the digital economy.

PANAYIOTIS SENTONAS, Chairman, Board of Directors of the Youth Board of Cyprus, said that his country’s national youth strategy had been established in 2017.  The strategy reflected the State vision for youth and bound it to implement measures to achieve specific goals.  At the core of youth strategy were the Sustainable Development Goals and their targets.  He believed that a stable environment was needed to be created for young people to dream and prosper.  Youth themselves had been involved in the creation of the strategy, he said.

SIDI TIEMOKO TOURE, Minister for Youth Promotion, Employment and Civic Services of Cote d’Ivoire, said that adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals involved commitments from all stakeholders.  In that regard, his country had a national development plan for 2016-2020, as well as a youth policy, which had been adopted to cover that same period.  Making the policy operational had allowed the empowerment of young people with a national council that was an interface between them and the Government.

KHADIJA MOHAMMED DIRIYE, Minister for Youth and Sports of Somalia, said that her nation’s 2017 national youth policy would help it to better coordinate a conversation with the country’s young people.  That policy had been developed in coordination with youth organizations across the country.

KAREN ELLEMANN, Minister for Equal Opportunities of Denmark, said that her country had worked on improving youth opportunities.  Youth had the potential as critical agents of change.  Denmark wanted to create sustainable development by and with young people, and they needed to be included in a meaningful way.  Her country had also expanded its youth delegate programme.

A youth delegate from Denmark added that the Danish YMCA scouts had engaged with youth in Tunisia, building up resilience.  The partnership was an example of how young people took leadership in their own lives.  Denmark and the Danish Youth Council would continue to contribute to the rights of marginalized youth.

KRASSEN KRALEV, Minister for Youth and Sports of Bulgaria, said that his country believed it was crucial to respond to the aspirations of young people in Europe and beyond through effective policies and programmes that empowered that segment and helped them to realize their full potential.

PEDRO ROBLEDO, National Under-Secretary-General for Youth of Argentina, said that it was fundamental to work on reducing poverty and inequality.  That was linked to future employment, he said.  A crucial point was to realize that Argentina needed to extend Internet access to all areas of the country.  It was also fundamental to work on an in-depth review of the educational system, not just in Argentina but worldwide.

ANNE-SOPHIE DUBRUX, youth delegate from Belgium, said that work needed to be done structurally to include the voice of young persons at all levels of power.  She also highlighted the work of the United Nations youth delegate programme.  Regarding national voluntary reviews, there was much to be done, and youth delegations did a lot of valuable work to consult people and gather data.

FEDERICO BARRETO, Director for the National Youth Institute of Uruguay, said that inertia could lead to people being excluded.  The future should not be one of privilege but one of equality.  Social and cultural changes were happening quickly, and science and technology were vital for the future.

SHABANA ABBAS, President of the Water Youth Network, said that her organization aimed to create a youth constituency on water within the United Nations.

VIVIANA BOZA, Vice-Minister for Youth of Costa Rica, said that the development of clean energies was crucial.  Thanks to the efforts of the Government, her country had become a reference in the region with regard to the use of renewable energy.

FATOU JENG, Board Member at Plant-for-the-Planet, said that young people should be involved in decision-making processes and should be taken seriously, not just because of their age but because of the substance that they brought to discussions.

CARIZA SEGUERRA, Chairperson for National Youth Commission of the Philippines, said that participation by young people should be promoted in an equitable way so that both urban and rural youth were included.

CRYSTAL MA, Global Focal Point for Habitat III, United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth, said issues should be defined within time and location constraints.  Space was not just a container to be filled, but also an active designer of social relations.  “Power over space was power over life,” she said, underscoring the territorial dimension of the Sustainable Development Goals.

MIRNA INES FERNÁNDEZ PRADEL, of the World Association of Girl Guides and Scouts, said education was essential to raising awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals.  It was important to promote a decolonizing approach that was inclusive of traditional knowledge and marginalized groups, she said, underscoring also the role of young people in creating sustainable consumption and production.

KATALIN NOVÁK, Minister of State for Family and Youth Affairs of Hungary, said her country had been facing a demographic decline for more than three decades.  Young Hungarians, however, wanted to establish families with at least two children.  It was therefore important to help them overcome challenges in that regard, with almost 5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) going towards family policy.

A youth delegate from Hungary added that her number one priority was to ensure youth participation at all levels.  Young people must be recognized as agents of change, she added.

CHRISTIAN SCHWARZER, of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network, said young people would be most affected by the loss of biodiversity, but their awareness of that issue was shockingly low.  Nevertheless, thousands of youth around the world were taking action, he said, calling for political will to address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss.

INTI RIOJA, Director of Youth of the Ministry and Justice and Institutional Transparency for Bolivia, said that indigenous and rural people had designed a social and economic development plan for the country around the philosophy of “living well”.  There must be complementarity between human beings and all living beings on Earth.  That philosophy included respect for other cultures and other ways of living, and involved building an economic model to ensure that Earth’s resources were distributed well.  Youth would soon become the greatest proportion of the global population and that would enable a paradigm shift, he said.  Sustainable development must include a stock-taking between integrating youth, ensuring complementarity with Mother Earth, and allowing youth to be increasingly involved in decision-making.

SHRI BIREN SIKDER, Minister for Youth and Sports of Bangladesh, said that attaining the Sustainable Development Goals was beyond the capacity of a sole Member State.  Therefore, enhanced global partnership was a must, and there must be more collaboration between Member States, United Nations entities, civil society and young people, with whom the future of the world lay.  Around one third of people in Bangladesh were between 18-35 years old.  Bangladesh was expected to reap a demographic dividend based on that, he said.

MAX TREJO, Secretary-General of the Ibero-American Youth Organization, said that people were preoccupied with certain facts but needed to remember the voices that were missing.  The rights of youths must be protected.  Youth public policy was supposedly often strategic but it was often peripheral in terms of actions.  That needed to be changed.  The experiences of young people must be responded to.

IHOR ZHDANOV, Minister for Youth and Sports of Ukraine, said that to share and implement the best European practice in his country, youth centres had been developed in all regions.  Those centres promoted the active participation of young people in community life.  They also provided a significant contribution to non-formal education and leisure, and were particularly important in the eastern part of the country.

JEREMY CYRUS AKHAVI, of the Starlight Foundation, said he considered himself lucky after he was diagnosed in 2017 with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and began chemotherapy.  Staring death in the face meant realizing what a blessing life was.  He said he had grown closer to his family and friends as well as had new experiences, including coming to New York to speak at the United Nations.  Stumbling blocks must not be labelled as setbacks, but as learning experiences, he added.

Reporting on Outcome of Breakout Sessions

MELINDA ALFANO, Communication and Outreach Coordinator for NYC H20, reporting on the outcome of the six afternoon breakout sessions focused on various Sustainable Development Goals, said conversations on Goal 6 focused on the United Nations water synthesis report.  That report included an analysis of the links with other Goals, such as the one on gender.  She also underscored the need to make sure that youth were more involved in supporting water initiatives in their communities.  Education was important for youth to act, and early access to education meant that, for example, the taboos surrounding menstruation and defecation could be eradicated.

SAJITH WIJESURIYA, Science Policy Interface Platform Focal Point for the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth, said that his breakout group had focused on Goal 7, noting the need to identify the social, economic and environmental benefits of sustainable energy.  Greater efforts were also needed in training and education to ensure that youth benefited from job opportunities in the renewable energy sector.  To ensure the resilience of energy systems, especially in regions affected by climate change, the energy infrastructure should be constructed in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.

GIULIA LAVAGNA, Youth Officer for the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN‑Habitat), spoke on Goal 11 on sustainable cities.  The discussion highlighted the importance of youth as an agent of change in cities and examined how young people could become more engaged, as well as how they could gain opportunities to work with local government, she said.  In addition, it looked at how cities could work as a platform for the integration of migrants and refugees.

MATTEO LANDI, Industrial Development and Youth Employment Expert for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), spoke about Goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production patterns.  He said that bridges should be built between food producers and consumers and the world should move from being consumer‑based to producer‑based to better understand production in the supply chain.  That would lead to better informed consumers, he said.

SWETHA BHASHYAM, United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth, shared its views on Goal 15.  The Group focused on the indigenous and local communities being left out of discussions of that Goal, and their rights needed to be valued, she said.  Their traditional knowledge was vital and should be recognized.  It was also important to create relevant jobs so that people interested in working on the issues would have the chance to do so.

KIMBERLY PUGEL, Technology Focal Point for Financing for Development Working Group, spoke on Goal 17 on the use of science and technology in facilitating youth engagement.  She underscored that quality and affordable access to science and innovation should be ensured for everyone.  Education and skills development should also be fostered so that young people could benefit from science and innovation.  In collaboration with youth, common principles should be created to govern the use of science and innovation, taking into consideration ethical concerns.

For information media. Not an official record.