Today marks the 8th annual United Nations’ International Youth Day. A day that provides an opportunity for everyone, from youth led agencies, national and local governments, and international agencies, to draw attention to youth issues worldwide.
On this International Youth Day, I would like to express my support for the chosen theme of “Sustainability: Our Challenge. Our Future.”
Sustainability encapsulates three facets of life: the environment, society and the economy. We have begun to recognize that our lives are very much interconnected: our daily actions and attitudes directly affect not only ourselves and those closest to us, but also the global community.
Many of you will agree that over the past year we have faced many social and environmental hurricanes, from the disastrous effects of climate change, the economic meltdown to a flu pandemic. Each of these events demonstrate that whether rich or poor, North or South, we are all in this together, and we must collectively arrive at just solutions in order for our world to become sustainable.
Youth, particularly urban youth, pose the largest challenge and opportunity of the 21st century. As Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General pointed out, this is mostly due to high unemployment rates. Our challenge entails finding a method where we can invest in what is possibly the world’s most dynamic demographic: young people under the age of 30 who make up over 70% of the population in the poorest countries in the world; many of whom live in cities, often in slums. Endorsing the Secretary-General’s message, young people are crucial in our move towards sustainable development.
International agencies such as UN HABITAT recognize that we face an unprecedented opportunity – if we invest in this youthful demographic even in a small way, we can cause a ripple effect which will bring about positive economic, social and environmental change globally.
We need to break the cycle of poverty while simultaneously addressing the issue of environmental sustainability. These young leaders will pave the way for a better and more sustainable future. If we miss this opportunity to invest in our youth, the consequences will be grave.
With this in mind, it has become imperative that we not only focus on the problems associated with unplanned settlements, rising numbers of unemployed youth, crime rate and the degradation of environment, but that we work together with the pioneers of today and leaders of tomorrow. We must ask ourselves how we can, in partnership with young people, solve issues such as the global climate change crisis.
UN HABITAT hopes that the launch of the Opportunities Fund for Urban Youth-Led Development, a global fund which not only financially supports thousands of youth led initiatives on issues ranging from climate change to HIV AIDS, but will also allow us to research and learn from these initiatives and to harness the wisdom of youth. In turn we will discover best practices that can lead us into a better and more sustainable future.
Together, especially in partnership with young people, we can achieve sustainable urban development through collective local action for the attainment of global goals; but this requires turning innovative ideas into action. I believe that our youth can and will rise to this challenge. I ask you to share my conviction, and encourage young people everywhere to confront the greatest challenges faced by humanity in the 21st century: the challenge of sustainability, now and into the future.