‘Once-in-a-generation opportunity’ will be squandered, warns Guterres, unless social, economic, environmental challenges are met

UN Social Media Team WHO China Ambassador Yiyang Qianxi attends 2019 ECOSOC Youth Forum.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


Unless the world faces its “social, economic and environmental challenges head-on”, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said on Tuesday, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), will not be met.

Addressing the final plenary of the UN Youth Forum on Tuesday, he warned that “the once-in-a-generation opportunity we have to end poverty and bring lasting prosperity for all on a healthy planet, will have been squandered”.

According to Mr. Guterres, each challenge has one common denominator: “the need for those in power to live up to their responsibilities; to do what is right for people and planet alike”.

Lauding youth’s courage and persistence, he said that “more often than not, young people in our world today are a lightning rod for change”.

“Because it is your future, your livelihoods, your freedom, your security, your environment, you do not, and you must not, take no for an answer,” spelled out the Secretary-General, offering the partnership of the UN on “the journey towards a more peaceful, just and prosperous world”.

He enumerated some of the challenges ahead, including curbing unemployment, poverty and illiteracy, along with various actions he and the UN is taking to meet them.

“To make sure our work is relevant and effective, we need your ideas, your energy and your creativity”, said the UN chief, pointing to their work in inclusion, gender equality and human rights.

He reminded the group that world leaders will meet in New York to catalyze “greater ambition, leadership and action” to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development saying that the key messages and outcomes of the Forum’s discussions would be shared with decision-makers and policy-makers in those meetings.

“But that is not enough”, he underscored, “We need you to mobilize. We need you to activate your networks. “We need you to engage in the youth-focused events leading up to September, including Youth Day before my Climate Action Summit”.

He urged everyone “above all”, to “be the change we need” and to “push world leaders” to step up their ambition and meet their responsibilities “to do what is right for people and planet alike”.

He pledged the UN’s support as an organization “that truly works with you”.

“Together we can ensure peace, prosperity, opportunity and dignity for all on a healthy planet”, he concluded.

For her part, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Inga Rhonda King said that without youth, “we will not be able to move forward”.

She called on countries to “engage young people in a meaningful way to make our world a better place” and encouraged them to be inclusive, involve youth in decision-making and to listen.

Youth drive the Sustainable Development Goals

    • SDG1, No poverty: The International Lavour Organization ( ILO) said that in 2017, an estimated 16.7 per cent of employed youth in emerging/developing countries earn less than $1.90 per day.
    • SDG2, Zero hunger:The World Food Programme (WFP) cited studies showing that every $1 invested in school meals programmes brings a $3-$10 economic return from improved health, education and productivity.
    • SDG3, Good health and well-being: The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) noted that adolescent girls are disproportionately affected by HIV, accounting for nearly two thirds of all new HIV infections among adolescents.
    • SDG4, Quality education: The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that 750 million adults – two-thirds of whom are women – remain illiterate.
    • SDG5, Gender equality: ILO noted that young women earned around 22 per cent less than young men, largely because combined crowd work with childcare and other household responsibilities interfere with them taking on higher-paying tasks.
    • SDG6, Clean water and sanitation: The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF said that 12 per cent of schools had a limited sanitation service.
    • SDG8, Decent work and economic growth: ILO revealed that globally there are 202 million unemployed people, 40 percent of whom are youth.
    • SDG9, Industry, innovation and infrastructure: The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) reported that youth represent almost one-fourth of all individuals using the Internet worldwide.
    • SDG10, Reduced inequalities: The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) showed that the net income of combined social assistance and housing benefits is systematically lower for 20-year-olds than for the average recipient.
    • SDG11, Sustainable cities and communities: UNDP said that by 2050, 66 per cent of the world will live in cities, making job creation critical for 73 million unemployed youth.
    • SDG12, Responsible consumption and production: If current consumption/production patterns continue, by 2050, we would need the equivalent of almost three planets worth of resources to sustain our way of living.
    • SDG13, Climate action: The UN Development Programme (UNDP) noted that close to half a million youth globally have taken action on climate change.
    • SDG16, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions: WHO says that globally, nearly one-in-three adolescent girls aged 15–19 years has been a victim of emotional, physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by their husband or partner.

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