Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the eighth annual Economic and Social Council Youth Forum, in New York today:
Good afternoon to all of you. I am delighted to see so many participants at this eighth annual Economic and Social Council Youth Forum — all committed to ensuring that the youth of today and tomorrow are empowered, included and equal.
I thank Economic and Social Council President Inga Rhonda King for providing this platform for young people to share their efforts and innovation as we work together to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Over the last two days, you have had the opportunity to express your views, hopes and concerns about your future. I share your concerns and I pledge that the United Nations will work with you to deliver on your hopes.
Right now, our world is faced with a myriad of tests: a climate crisis; protracted conflicts; unsustainable levels of youth unemployment; growing disparities between rich and poor; a clampdown on dissent; and strong opposition to our march for gender equality. Unless we face our social, economic and environmental challenges head‑on, we will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the world will not be better. Many lives will be lost and the once‑in‑a‑generation opportunity we have to end poverty and bring lasting prosperity for all on a healthy planet will have been squandered.
Each of these challenges has one common denominator — the need for those in power to live up to their responsibilities; to do what is right for people and planet alike. That is why I am so pleased to see so many committed young people with us here today. I know you are not a homogenous group and young people are not immune to engaging in the negative trends in our societies. But more often than not, young people in our world today are a lightning rod for change.
You show the courage and persistence that is often lacking among older generations. And you can imagine that I know a little bit about older generations. Because it is your future, your livelihoods, your freedom, your security, your environment, you do not and you must not take no for an answer. In the United Nations, you have a partner that will accompany you on this journey towards a more peaceful, just and prosperous world.
Last September, we launched the United Nations Youth Strategy — and through my Youth Envoy, that is here on my right‑hand side, with young people and with partners across the United Nations system, we are working hard to translate that Strategy’s promise into tangible change. With this strategy, we aim to ensure the Organization responds better to the needs of young people but especially that we include your contributions to making the Sustainable Development Goals a reality for all. We also aim to increase action to address the needs, build the agency and advance the rights of youth around the world in all its diversity.
In meetings with Governments, I have emphasized the importance of integrated and well‑resourced policies for youth, but with young people engaged as partners in development as active participants in decision‑making. It is not to have my generation defining the youth policies but to have your generation working together with my generation to make sure that youth policies correspond to the aspirations and to the concerns of the young generations of today. I also stress above all else the importance of investing in quality education and decent work for all young people.
Today, young people face high unemployment rates and a prevalent sense of disenfranchisement. Sixty‑four million young people are unemployed. Some 145 million young workers live in poverty. And some 617 million youth worldwide lack basic mathematics and literacy skills. Young women in particular are too often discriminated against, from health to education, from access to the labour force and access to financing. In some regions, for example, female youth unemployment is almost double that of men.
If we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, governments, civil society and international partners must scale up their investment in young people — ensuring they are educated, empowered and employed. And we must respond quickly to the challenges that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is presenting — the loss of jobs for many; the demand for new and relevant skills; and the potential weakening of the social contract.
To make sure our work is relevant and effective, we need your ideas, your energy and your creativity. Around the world, young people are striving for peace, justice, inclusion, gender equality and human rights. Last month we saw hundreds of thousands of young people marching for climate action. I count on you to keep up the pressure as we move towards my Climate Action Summit this year and the crucial climate talks next year.
You are also critical to efforts to address hate speech and promote intercultural and interfaith understanding and tolerance. Last week, I was in Tunisia, where I met with students and youth representatives. Two thirds of the Arab world’s people are under the age of 30. Harnessing the dynamism of young people, like the students I met in Tunis, is key to that region’s future. Engaging youth globally is essential for the well‑being of the entire world. We need your insights and partnership as we work for a better future for all.
This September, world leaders will meet in New York for a series of meetings aimed at catalysing greater ambition, leadership and action to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda. The key messages and outcomes of your discussions this week will be shared with decision makers and policymakers in those meetings.
But that is not enough. We need you to mobilize. We need you to activate your networks. We need you to engage in the youth‑focused events leading up to September, including Youth Day before the Climate Action Summit. I also recommend your contribution to the 2019 World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth, in Lisbon, in June.
Above all, we need you to both be the change we need and to push world leaders — in governments, in cities, in the private sector — to step up their ambition and to meet their responsibilities; to do what is right for people and planet alike.
You can count on me to continue to make the United Nations an organization that truly works with you. Together we can ensure peace, prosperity, opportunity and dignity for all on a healthy planet.
Thank you very much on your commitment and count on us to support your engagement.