Ahead of 2023, Nigerian youths have been challenged to rise up and save the country from a humanitarian nightmare. This is the import of the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, when he lauded young people around the world for raising their voices and mobilising for a better future.
According to him, despite war, COVID-19 and the climate crisis, all of which compound the other challenges facing young people today, “young people are…leading the way in the fight against climate change, standing up for racial justice and gender equality…holding leaders to account…[and] are at the forefront of our efforts to secure a more inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous future for all.”
Guterres was speaking on the second of a two-day forum on youth under the theme Youth 2030: Achieving the SDGs, where he delivered a recorded video message to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)’s annual Youth Forum encouraging young people to “keep pushing; to keep mobilising; and to keep bringing your ideas to the table”.
“We have no time to lose”, the UN chief said, as most concerned Nigerians are expecting the younger generation to salvage the country from continued drift as it wobbles towards 2023 elections.
Through its Youth Strategy, the UN is committed to working, for and with young people.
Guterres thanked Jayathma Wickramanayake, his Youth Envoy, along with UN entities and country teams as well as youth organizations and Member States for working to ensure that “our actions are guided by the perspectives and energy of young people”.
“But we can and we must do more,” he underscored, reminding that the UN Our Common Agenda report proposes a series of recommendations to strengthen and deepen solidarity with youth and future generations while building more networked, inclusive and effective multilateralism.
The UN chief informed the meeting of an upcoming summit on Transforming Education that will convene in September.
He encouraged the participants “full and active engagement” in mobilizing political ambition, action, solutions and solidarity to transform education.
The summit will take stock of efforts to recover pandemic-related learning losses, reimagine education systems for the future, and revitalize national and global efforts to achieve the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 4) for inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Upgrading youth engagement
Another update the Secretary-General shared was the creation of a new UN Youth Office that will “upgrade engagement” with young people across the Organisation’s work.
“Meaningful, diverse, and effective youth participation – inside the United Nations and far beyond – is essential to advancing human rights, addressing the climate crisis and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” he concluded.
‘Rescue’ the planet
The Youth Envoy thanked the thousands of young people around the world who “were leading our conversations every step of the way” throughout the Youth Forum – despite facing countless challenges and disproportionate impacts amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is no need to sugar coat it – we live in a world abundant with crises and emergencies’’, said Ms. Wickramanayake.
In addition, the world remains off-track in achieving the SDGs by 2030, she stressed, calling for efforts to “rescue” both the Goals and the planet.
“We have heard time and time again…the constant demands of young people to change the oppressive systems and structures that weigh us down, that increase inequalities and trap us in a cycle of violence,” she said.
Stressing that many ideas, visions and solutions were put forward over the last two days, the Youth Envoy urged participants not to simply “pat ourselves on the back and move on” but instead to harness the moment, act and hold leaders accountable.
Founder and Director of the Rohingya Women Development Network, Sharifah Shakirah, said that the 2030 Agenda was launched to end poverty and set the path to peace, prosperity and equality for all on a healthy planet.
However, “today, we live in two different worlds”, she said, noting that in one, privileged people are protected by their countries, and in the other – exemplified by where she was born – children are forced to flee violence and persecution.
Describing young people as the bridge between both worlds, she pointed out that, even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, one in five youth globally suffered from limited access to education, and one in four faced conflict.
Now, in the context of the pandemic, “young people are maintaining open communication with their communities”, including by creating grassroots organizations and providing assistance to others on the ground.
Those sentiments were echoed by a range of UN officials, who praised the countless young people that contributed to both the Forum and COVID-19 recovery efforts at every level.
Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), welcomed the active contributions of young people, which personify the UN’s goal of “leaving no one behind.”
Meaningful engagement with youth is at the core of DESA’s work, including in climate change action and financing for development, he said, adding that his department it is always exploring new ways to engage with young people such as through its UN Youth Delegates programme.
Taking the wheel
“You have rightly demanded to be in the driver’s seat in devising the recovery efforts and a seat at the table when decisions are taken that would impact your own future,” said ECOSOC President Collen Vixen Kelapile.
After two challenging years of lockdowns, quarantines, social distancing, treatment inequities, and the loss of livelihoods for millions, he noted that young people have shared their visions of how to get back on track to accelerate the implementation of the SDGs.
Emphasizing that the pandemic affected young people most, Mr. Kelapile said it also revealed how their leadership, resourcefulness and dedication can turn major crises into opportunities for a fairer, more inclusive and more equitable future.
Against that backdrop, he added that “there is no shortage of good will, commitment and desire to act among you” and pledged the UN’s solidarity going forward.