Our Future, Our Present: Young People at the Heart of the 2030 Agenda!
– Lessons from the ECOSOC Youth Forum 2016
By Jasmin Burgermeister
What a great moment! Young people are overtaking the United Nations Headquarters in New York City for the ECOSOC Youth Forum 2016! They are coming from everywhere, striving all to make the world a better place. The conference room is full of fresh, dynamic youth as it hasn't been for a long time. It's Youth Forum time!
Arriving at the Forum, I got a feeling of hopefulness in the leading role that young people must play in the process of transforming our world. My hopefulness arrived too early, as I learned during the two following days. There is still much work to be done in putting youth at the forefront of sustainable development.
The focus of this year's ECOSOC Youth Forum was on "Youth Taking Action to Implement the 2030 Agenda". The Forum brought together Member States, representatives of youth organizations, Youth Delegates, young political leaders, and UN agencies. However, it was disappointing for me to sit during the opening of the Forum and see a number of empty seats behind Member States' name plates. It was also discouraging to see a number of those Member States who were present at the great opening to disappear right before the breakout sessions began – the breakout sessions where we had intense, substantive discussions! We all agreed at the Forum that when youth representatives from all over the world are in one room and ready to speak out for their generation, we no longer want to hear long statements by Ministers expressing their interest in having an exchange with us. Instead, we want to have real, interactive, face-to-face dialogues with them on the new ideas we have!
Nevertheless, the ECOSOC Youth Forum is and will always be a great space for young people to have their voices heard at the United Nations. This year’s Forum, for example, offered the opportunity for regional sessions, where participants gathered to discuss key issues, challenges and priorities for young people within their respective regions in relation to the 2030 Agenda. Specific recommendations were shared per region, and among all of us there was great appreciation and recognition of the importance of having such discussions at the regional level.
Even with regional representation, I have to admit, a real representation of the world's youth has not been ensured. If we really want to establish the ECOSOC Youth Forum as a body to express young voices, we also need to consider the legitimacy of the Forum's participants based on factors such as the participants’ origin, their social class, their education, what kind of youth they represent, and the youth organizations that they are a part of.
As we all know, there are not enough specific reference bringing attentionto young people within the 2030 Agenda. This is something that I confirmed, along with other Youth Delegates, when we actually counted the references while at the ECOSOC Youth Forum. Nevertheless, the strong consensus from this ECOSOC Youth Forum highlighted that despite this, youth need to be at the heart of the entire Agenda if we are to achieve sustainable development. It is relevant for youth and young people’s participation in it; it is relevant for the world. We have the power to change the world, yes, – but we need the right space, support and recognition for this to happen. Youth participation is needed across the entire Agenda as all of the Goals are relevant to young people and will, therefore, depend on our input and our contribution not only today but over the next fifteen years!
The last plenary session on the second day of the ECOSOC Youth Forum focused on partnerships with young people. I intervened and took the chance to raise another point: it’s not just about our concrete contribution to the implementation itself. If we take the Agenda seriously, youth also have to play an important role in the monitoring process and hence, youth-led organizations and national youth councils should have the opportunity to contribute to the intergovernmental review of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) held annually in July is and will be the UN body in charge of this review process. For this reason, young people’s contribution should also be ensured through participation of official Youth Delegates as part of Member States' delegations to the sessions of the HLPF! If your country does not have Youth Delegates to the HLPF, demand for it!
Let's spread this message as the outcome of the ECOSOC Youth Forum 2016: it is young people like us who will make the 2030 Agenda become a success. We take this responsibility seriously - come on Member States, make your contribution as well!
About the Author:
Jasmin Burgermeister, age 21, is one of the official German Youth Delegates to the United Nations (2015-2017). Together with her colleague, she is in charge for all issues on Sustainable Development. Having this position, she not only attended the 2015 High Level Political Forum (HLPF) but also the United Nations Summit for the adoption of the 2030 Agenda last September. She travels around Germany to meet young Germans and teach and talk with them about sustainable development. You can contact her on facebook or send her an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The theme of this year’s ECOSOC Youth Forum was “Youth taking action to implement the 2030 Agenda”. The meeting focused on ways in which young people can play an active role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The youth forum turned out to be a platform for brainstorming and informed discussion between youth representatives and policy makers. A key message that emerged from the forum was the recognition that young people are not only key actors in advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, but they are also directly affected by the challenges the SDGs seek to tackle.
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