From Tashkent to Tokyo, from Nairobi to Yerevan and Montevideo, young people gathered in hundreds of locations across the globe on Friday to mark International Youth Day and celebrate the myriad ways in which young women and men contribute to the betterment of our world.

Marking the day at UN headquarters in New York, young people joined UN officials in showcasing the innovative approach of youth to promoting sustainability. This year’s celebrations focused on the role of young people in promoting sustainable consumption and production as highlighted by Goal 12 of the Sustainable Development Agenda.

“I am proud that the United Nations is actively engaged in supporting young leaders who can carry out the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including Goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production patterns,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message on International Youth Day, which is marked every year on August 12. “I encourage all young people to become involved in advancing the SDGs and demanding action by their Governments.”

The event at UN headquarters brought together young people actively advancing SDG 12 across different fields—from waste disposal and water management to environmental awareness and activism—in order to highlight the importance of a responsible consumption and production cycle.

Lauren Singer, founder of The Simply Co. and leader of a movement aimed at eliminating waste production, spoke of the different ways in which young people can help spearhead global efforts to keep waste production at a minimum.

Four years ago, Lauren decided to limit her waste production, and since then she has produced just enough trash to fit inside a 16-oz mason jar.

“I decided to ask: How can I stop blaming people and actually do something myself?” she said, adding that the answer is rather simple. “Any positive change to reduce your waste, no matter how big or how small, is a positive change.”  

Deepika Kurup is an 18-year-old university student who has been passionate about solving the global water crisis since her time in middle school. Speaking at the event, she explained how she started her work a few years ago by setting up a “makeshift garage laboratory” to better understand how water consumption affects different lifestyles in different settings. “The burden of water collection,” she said, “is usually felt by women and girls. Often it’s a six-hour roundtrip—a full time job.” Instead, she continued, women could be helping the economy grow, and children could spend more time in school.  

In his remarks, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, further underscored the immense contributions of young people to sustainability and to all of the 17 SDGs. “Young people are making waves in every field from technology, to art, to sports, to food, to science and innovation, and everything in between,” he said. “They are offering bold and inspiring solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.” At the same time, youth need the space in order for them to thrive and pursue their ambitions, the Envoy said. Today, he continued, we have the largest youth population in human history and while International Youth Day is a time for celebration, it is also a time for concrete commitments.

“When they tell you ‘you are the future,’ they are not telling you the whole story,” the Envoy said. “You are here now, you are the present, and this is the time for action.” As the day unfolded, UN offices across the globe showcased young people’s different contributions to a better and more sustainable world. While some of the events highlighted young people’s direct engagement with the Sustainable Development Agenda, others focused on the role of sport and education in promoting the SDGs.

Song Jia, actress and advocate for UNEP 10 YFP in China, celebrates International Youth Day with a message on the importance of SDG 12.

Song Jia, actress and advocate for UNEP 10 YFP in China, celebrates International Youth Day with a message on the importance of SDG 12.