HLPF 2020: A Call to Take Young People Seriously

Now more than ever, young people are being encouraged by international organizations to use their voices and participate in conferences addressing global issues. When participating in these conversations as a young person however, I don’t only want to be invited, I want to be taken seriously. Study after study has shown that failure to meet global Sustainable Development Goals will affect my generation most severely. Our urgency does not come from impatience, it comes from absolute necessity.

Sometimes, this invitation to participate can fall short. This past December, I was granted the opportunity to attend the UNFCCC’s 25th Conference of  Parties. Though the conference was a learning and networking experience for me, I realized that the enthusiastic push to be more inclusive of young people wasn’t living up to my expectations. Youth were given plenty of space in media and side events, but on issues that really mattered, such as the operationalization of the Paris Agreement, the urgency and inclusiveness that young people had been calling for was left outside negotiation rooms.

At this year’s High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, hosted virtually over the past two weeks, Restless Development, Project Everyone, and Action for Sustainable Development hosted a youth-led panel on achieving global goals in 2020. Over 100 young people tuned in, some sharing their own personal experiences with the impact of COVID-19 and unrest from police brutality in their communities. Many echoed the sentiment that although this year has been hard, it has also been a catalyst for youth action in political spaces.

In the closing panel of HLPF 2020, Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth spoke. After months of speaking with young people globally on the unrest of 2020, she had one key takeaway: “There must be no going back to normal.” She outlined ways international organizations and Member States could show their respect for youth, including treating them as partners and equals in solving global issues.

The welcoming atmosphere and consistent acknowledgment of the youth voice at HLPF 2020 was prominent. With The 75th UN General Assembly in a few months, it is yet to be seen if this newfound respect for the youth perspective that 2020 has brought will translate to the actions of UN officials and member states in addressing global challenges with ambition. However, if the atmosphere of HLPF 2020 is the new normal, we are certainly moving in the right direction.