Sarah Baharaki

Sarah Baharaki (at podium), global youth ambassador and Theirworld and a representative of the Major Group on Children and Youth (MGCY), addresses the United Nations Economic and Social Council Youth Forum in New York City on April 16, 2024.

(Photo: Evan Schneider/United Nations)

Young People to World Leaders: 'Time to Let Youth Lead'

"We need more young people represented in all spheres of decision-making—within government, at the United Nations, in civil society, private sector, and academia. And they must be taken seriously."

"We still believe in the promise of a better world for all. Do you?"

That's how a letter to world leaders, spearheaded by the United Nations Youth Office, begins. It was released Monday, ahead of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum, as part of a campaign arguing that "it's time to let youth lead."

The letter stresses that "all around us, humanity is in peril. The impacts of war and conflict, humanitarian catastrophes, the mental health crisis, and the climate emergency have reached unimaginable heights."

"To rebuild trust and restore hope, we need to see meaningful youth engagement become the norm at all levels."

Last year was the hottest in human history, and temperatures in recent months suggest that trend will continue—largely thanks to planet-heating pollution from fossil fuels. Thousands of children have been killed in fighting around the world, from Ukraine and Sudan to the Gaza Strip—where the death toll has helped spur a genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice.

"But we know that it doesn't need to be this way. While no one nation can solve these challenges alone, it is the inability of leaders to work together in pursuit of the collective good that is putting our common future in jeopardy," the letter states. "We cannot afford to lose hope—the stakes are simply too high. That is why, as young people and allies, we are rallying together as a global community to make our voices heard."

Emphasizing how including diverse perspectives helps to "ensure we don't continue to repeat past mistakes" and that the youth "will live with the consequences of the decisions taken today," the letter calls on "all leaders and institutions to take immediate action to make global policymaking and decision-making spaces more representative of the communities they serve."

"We need more young people represented in all spheres of decision-making—within government, at the United Nations, in civil society, private sector, and academia. And they must be taken seriously," it argues. "To rebuild trust and restore hope, we need to see meaningful youth engagement become the norm at all levels, backed by dedicated resourcing everywhere around the world."

According to the youth, "The Summit of the Future this September will be one important opportunity for governments to commit to finally giving young people their rightful seat at the table."

The summit's U.N. webpage describes it as "a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enhance cooperation on critical challenges and address gaps in global governance, reaffirm existing commitments including to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the United Nations Charter, and move towards a reinvigorated multilateral system that is better positioned to positively impact people's lives."

Ahead of that summit, ECOSOC is hosting the youth forum from Tuesday through Thursday at U.N. headquarters in New York City. Attendees are set to share recommendations and ideas in preparation for the September event.

The young people joining the forum are also expected to participate in discussions focused on five SDGs: partnerships for the goals, no poverty, zero hunger, climate action, and peace, justice, and strong institutions.

"The energy and conviction of young people are infectious, and more vital than ever. Our world is bristling with challenges, tragedies and injustices—many of them linked," U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in remarks to the forum on Tuesday.

"In the face of all these crises, public trust is plummeting. Alienation is growing. And the international system is creaking. The future of multilateralism is at stake. And so we need action and we need justice," he continued. "I salute young people around the world for standing up, speaking out and working for real change. We need you. And I am fully committed to bringing young people into political decision-making; not just listening to your views, but acting on them."

Guterres noted that "we established a new Youth Office in the United Nations to advance advocacy, coordination, participation, and accountability for and with young people."

"We will renew the United Nations Youth Strategy—to take this work to the next level. And I am committed to making sure young people have a strong role as we gear up for the Summit of the Future in September," he pledged, detailing various other initiatives.

"Every generation serves as caretaker of this world. Let's be honest: Mine has been careless with that responsibility," said the 74-year-old U.N. chief. "But yours gives me hope. The United Nations stands with you. Together, let's deliver justice. Let's deliver solutions. And let's create a world of peace and prosperity for all."

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