Without harnessing the energy, tech savvy and optimism of young people, the world has no hope of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or the Paris Agreement on climate change, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday.
Addressing leaders from governments, businesses and multilateral agencies during a high-level event on Generation Unlimited, a global partnership to help 10 to 24 year-olds access education, training and job opportunities, the UN chief said COVID-19 has exposed inequalities that have been allowed to persist for far too long.
“The situation of children and young people is a crisis within a crisis,” he said. “My generation has failed to respond properly to the global challenges we face.”
Held online, under the theme “Connecting Half the World to Opportunities,” participants pledged to reach 3.5 billion children and young people with quality education, including world-class digital solutions, distance learning and skilling, by 2030.
Noting that before the pandemic, one-fifth of young people were not in employment, education or training, Guterres said that one-third of them now lack access to remote learning. Children from the poorest households and those in rural areas are the most likely to miss out.
Education and digital technology are two of the most important investments that can be made as countries respond to COVID-19 and lay the foundations for a strong recovery, he said.
The UN chief said that investing in digital learning and training for young people is essential for building social cohesion and reducing the inequities that block human development.
These investments cannot be top-down, he said. “Those days are over.” Young people themselves must be at the forefront, making decisions and bringing their problem-solving skills to bear on the world’s most serious problems.
“I particularly encourage young women to speak and look forward to hearing from you,” he noted.
With 10 years left to achieve the SDGs, he called for strengthening links across sectors and rallying investment over the next year.
Large-scale financial and political resources must be marshalled by advanced and emerging economies, as well as international agencies. The private sector can step in to invest in shared-value partnerships, and foundations to provide catalytic funding.
The groundwork for these ambitious efforts must be laid at the country level, with young people and national partners in the lead. “I urge everyone here to play their full part, through technology, know-how, leadership or finance,” the UN chief said.