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Glaciers are melting while we are still burning fossil fuels. Nearly one billion people are starving while 80% of the worldwide farmland is used as pasture or for animal feed production. We (are pressured to) buy a new smartphone every year while others can’t light a bulb because they don’t have access to electricity.
Today’s problems are more and more pressing and the future doesn’t look bright. Fortunately, the international community came up with a masterplan: the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The Agenda expresses the need for a global transformation by addressing the three dimensions of sustainability: the ecological, the economic and the social dimension. It is the most ambitious project of the world. And it explicitly calls to “leave no one behind.” Overcoming hunger and extreme poverty, as well as changing to decent work, and sustainable consumption and production patterns by 2030 are just a few of its global goals.
But having a great plan is not enough. Right now, we are far away from this vision. Young people all over the world keep a close watch on the global progress. Our conclusion? We need urgent implementation if we want to sustain a planet worth living. And we need to have a say, as it is our future that is being negotiated. We, young people under 30, make up 50% of the world population but only 2% in parliaments. Our generation is the largest share of population the world has ever seen but we are hardly represented and included in decision-making processes. It seems as if the future generation is being left behind.
Let’s not only talk about youth, let’s talk with youth
The Brundtland Report states that “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
So yes, this is all about future generations. The whole 2030 Agenda was created for future generations, high-level diplomats keep talking about the future generation and everyone is worried about the future generation! I wonder when they will finally start talking with us.
We are not just the future, we are the present. We are already shaping our society, our environment and our economy through technological innovations, by leading social movements or by starting businesses that serve the needs of the communities.
We already push the Sustainable Development Goals forward
Young people prefer sharing over owning, we overcome borders and prefer an international over a national view, we prefer a sustainable diet, renewable energy, taking the bike and plastic-free products. We already know what it means to live sustainably. There are thousands of examples where we come up with creative ideas and solutions for problems the world faces today.
But we are being held back. We do not have sufficient tools for the transformation. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t.
If you do not want to lose the young generation, win them by including them in decision-making processes at all levels: in municipalities, regions, countries and even at the international level. Young people are already well organized within clubs or organizations. We are ready to get into a regular and long-term dialogue with political, social, environmental and economic stakeholders, all stakeholders! One step further in empowering young women and men to save the world would be to reduce the voting age to 16 or even 14. This way, young people aren’t left behind at the voting boxes.
Political participation should not be a privilege
Sending a Youth Delegate to the United Nations to represent the young people of a country is a privilege that is so far used almost exclusively by Western countries. How can you negotiate a contract without all involving parties being on board? What we need is to have Youth Delegates from all around the world at the table.
Beyond that, we need serious and institutionalized inclusion in decision-making processes at all levels. This way, we make sure that our creative ideas and solutions help solving current challenges. For the transformation ahead, we need young people to act as multipliers to spread acceptance and highlight the urgency to act now.
Let young people be leaders of today
2030 is fast approaching and the global challenges are becoming more threatening — not only for us but also for the coming generations. The best investment is giving young people the tools and opportunities to help achieve the 2030 Agenda. We are the game changers, the front-runners and change agents.
It is us, young people, who have to live with the future world we create today. The 2030 Agenda with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals is an inspiring vision. We are ready to take this as a manual for our future. We are ready to be part of the construction. We are ready to leave no one behind.
[Rebecca Freitag is one of the German UN Youth Delegates on Sustainable Development (2017–19). She is a Masters student of Natural Resource Management in Berlin and a bike and climate activist at BUNDjugend (Young Friends of the Earth).]
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