Why the UN Is Prioritizing Youth in 2016

Youth are too often overlooked as stakeholders in conversations about global governance. When the conversation is about sustainability, no demographic should be more front and center than the youth (individuals aged 15-24) who will inherit the world we shape now. Currently, youth stats are unsustainable. Youth are not as integrated into our economy as they should be. In the US, for example, January 2016 jobs numbers note that youth unemployment is as high as 11 percent, more than double the national jobless rate (4.9 percent). And yet we know, from good data (per this JustJobs report) and good intuition, that the future of the global economy relies on putting young people in productive jobs.

In response to this youth unemployment crisis, and in an effort to engage youth in governing for the future, the United Nations Economic and Social Council hosted a Youth Forum this month. It is the first major discussion convened by the Economic and Social Council to plan how to implement the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development since it was adopted. Over 800 youth from 102 countries participated directly in the Forum alongside representatives from UN Member States, including 21 Ministers and 36 high-level officials. There was an impactful conversation on how youth could play an active role in developing their communities and countries sustainably.

Not only must the world's youth play a critical role in shaping their own future and the future of the planet, but the current challenges to sustainable development all too frequently impact children and youth disproportionately today.

Across the world, youth already face daunting challenges when entering the labour market. Today's youth are nearly three times as likely as adults to be unemployed. And in 2014, the ILO estimated the rate of global youth unemployment at 13 percent, equivalent to roughly 73 million young people. Around 40 percent of young women and men are either unemployed or working in poverty. Not only must we do a better job at addressing key impediments to youth development, like climate change, we must also create decent jobs for the world's current and future youth.

The launch of the UN's Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth at the Youth Forum is the first ever comprehensive UN system-wide effort to promote youth employment. It will focus on "green jobs" for youth, quality apprenticeships, digital skills and the building of "tech-hubs", transition from the informal to the formal economy and youth entrepreneurship.

Youth around the world are not mere beneficiaries of the Sustainable Development Goals, but key drivers for the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The role of young people and their organizations must be recognized as a leading one, as youth take action across all areas crucial for the implementation of the agenda, including in politics, business, academia and civil society.

Young people will also play an important role in holding the UN and governments accountable, to stay true to their promises and commitments. They will also play an important role in driving forward their own solutions to the challenges of our time, as young entrepreneurs, professionals or politicians.

For this to happen, we need to ensure that our political institutions - from the UN to the local level - are inclusive, open and participatory, so that youth indeed do not only have a seat, but also a strong voice in our world.

We look forward to working with young people to turn the comprehensive vision of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development into the future they want.

Ambassador Oh Joon, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council

Ahmad Alhendawi United Nations Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth