Secretary-General: Tackling climate emergency hinges on younger generation’s creativity, drive
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ closing remarks at the World Conference for Ministers Responsible for Youth and the Youth Forum Lisboa+21, in Lisbon on 23 June:
It is, in fact, true, as you have seen in the film, that 21 years ago, in 1998, here in Lisbon, I had the opportunity to address the very first World Conference for Ministers Responsible for Youth here in Lisbon. And I confess I do not know what is the most difficult, to be Prime Minister of Portugal or Secretary-General of the United Nations.
But, it is with great pleasure that I return to this city, which is my city, and to this forum where I see some familiar faces, but, most of all, so many new ones. In these 21 years, we have all come a long way.
In 1998, the Internet was in its infancy. Words like “drone”, and “selfie” were not in everyday use. The existential threat posed by climate change was not well understood. Nearly twice as many people were living in extreme poverty and twice as many girls were not attending primary school. We had 2 billion fewer people on our planet, meaning that, today, we have the largest young generation in history.
But, across the world, this new generation faces enormous challenges. One fifth of young people are not in employment, education or training; one quarter are affected by violence or conflict; millions of girls become mothers while they are still children. Online bullying and harassment are adding to high levels of stress; tragically, some 67,000 adolescents die from suicide or self-harm every year.
Without action on the climate emergency, on inequality and intolerance, this generation could face devastating consequences. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris climate agreement, agreed four years ago by all Member States, offer a way to address the serious global challenges we face.
This September, the eyes of the world will be on New York and on these agreements again, as we kick-start more urgent and ambitious global action for implementation. We have just 11 years left to achieve the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] and avert the worst impacts of climate change. And in both areas, we are running behind. In both areas, we are not doing enough, and we are not doing what we should be doing together.
It is clear that without the impatience, the drive, the creativity and the innovation of today’s young people, we will not succeed. I hope some of you will be in New York in September, to make sure leaders deliver on their promises.
My generation has so far failed to respond properly to the challenge of the climate emergency. And schoolchildren have grasped its urgency better than global leaders. They know that the window of opportunity is closing; they are determined to beat this threat and they are making a big difference already. Governments are starting to listen. Companies are starting to realize that a big carbon footprint is bad for their image and even their profits.
I believe this is just the start. From climate action to plastic pollution, from the clean energy revolution to gender equality, the young generation is stepping up to the challenge. And my generation is beginning to understand that young people can and must lead. The task for those of us in power, therefore, is not to solve the problems of young people, but to build frameworks so that they can contribute to solving their own problems. Young people must be able to participate in the decisions that affect their lives.
We need to create an enabling environment for young people, where they are seen not as subjects to be protected, but as citizens with equal rights, equal voices and equal influence, as full members of our societies, and powerful agents for change. The World Programme of Action for Youth, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, focuses on the entire spectrum of issues relevant to youth development and participation and can help guide this work.
It’s not enough to listen to young people and provide a seat at the table. We need to take a seat at your table. Young people must be given greater scope to help formulate and implement holistic policies and programmes that have their needs and their rights front and centre, that capture their diversity and the different challenges they face. Policies on gender are particularly important since we cannot build strong, just and resilient communities and resilient societies without the full participation and leadership of half of their members.
I can see this paradigm shift happening slowly across the globe. Next year, 2020, marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations. Global cooperation needs rejuvenation to better tackle the threats to your future. I want to hear from you how you would like to see us improve. In 2020, we want to stimulate conversations across the world to learn how you want the world to look when the United Nations is 100 in 2045 and how you see us improving to better deliver on
that vision. Please participate. Your voices as global citizens, as owners of the future are critical for our discussion during the seventy-fifth anniversary.
As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I want to thank young people for your leadership. As I told the inspiring Greta Thunberg a few days ago in Vienna, I am with you every step of the way. The United Nations will stand with young people when you oppose injustice. We will work with you to prevent conflict and to build peace. And we will support you in accessing education, decent work, social protection and your sexual and reproductive health.
Our new partnership with young people is set out in our strategy, Youth 2030, launched last year with the aim of making the United Nations a leader in working with young people, understanding their needs, helping to put their ideas into action, and ensuring their views are heard. The United Nations was born in a very different age. It is based on hierarchies and is sometimes uncomfortable with disruption.
It’s time for a change. We want to work with you on access to education and health, on training and jobs, on human rights and on your involvement both in your local communities and in the global community. My Youth Envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake, is leading our efforts on Youth 2030. I encourage you to engage with her and our entire United Nations system to make sure we do much better at working with and for young people.
As this event closes, I salute you for your hard work and wish you all the best in implementing the decisions included in the Declaration. I encourage you to continue to think big and to push boundaries. I ask that you join us in doing all you can to make this September a turning point for the SDGs and the global climate emergency. I count on your continued leadership and support. Thank you.