Speech by Ralien Bekkers
Official Youth Representative of the Netherlands
on Sustainable Development to the UN
New York, 7 March 2014
Thank you, madam chair, distinguished delegates, honored guests,
In 2030, how old will you be? I would be 38. I suppose I will be a mother by then. To begin, let me tell you about my future daughter. If we do our job right, she will know poverty only from the history books. She will learn that even though we once risked great environmental disasters and resource scarcities, we succeeded to realize effective strategies for sustainable development, which prevented her generation from what could have been a true nightmare. Regardless of the place in the world where she grows up, she will live in an environment completely free from any form of discrimination, an environment where young women like herself can fully participate and are leading important change, where all human rights are guaranteed, which includes access to any sexual and reproductive rights, an environment free from fear for conflict and disasters. Just like any other young person around the world, she will grow up in an environment surrounded by opportunities, including plenty green job opportunities for the young, and she can fully develop herself and her potential, so that she can soon meaningfully contribute to society. Because my and your generation showed her how to create necessary change and care for the earth. That is the world I want to leave for my future daughter. That is the world I want to create with you. But to create the future all people want and need, bold action is needed today.
Unfortunately in the world of today much still needs to change to unlock full potential of its young people but also of women, and to truly eradicate poverty and build sustainable systems and societies. The post-2015 development agenda must ensure both. In the world of today, young women my age and actually women of all ages are still sexually abused and violated - shockingly often - and they do not necessarily have the rights and freedom to make informed choices about their own lives and bodies. In the world of today, young girls - it could have been my 9-year-old sister - are still forced into child marriage. In the world of today, my 7-year-old brother could have been a child soldier or undergo harmful child labor. In the world of today, we have the greatest ever population of young people, but in many places we have only little if no real say in our own future, while for us most is at stake. This is what happens today and keeps us from developing our societies to the fullest. Remember that what we let happen to children and youth elsewhere, could have been your family too.
Before 2030, everyone must be truly equal. We need young people’s and women’s leadership to push this agenda forward. We need to see significant increases in women and young people in the real decision-making processes, also those behind closed doors and in comfortable backrooms. Moreover, isn’t is about time that we appoint a female Secretary General, and what about a female PGA? Nothing against the great work that his excellencies have done so far, of course :-) Women and young people are key to making sustainable development a success - we must be equal partners. It’s young people and women we need to invest in today, as we are the economic potential and social capital we need for the world of tomorrow.
Even though the post-2015 goals will probably only last until 2030, their effect must go beyond. In those 15 years we must lay a basis for true transformation, on which my and next generations can build. We need to have a long term view on the development of the world. In 2030, we will be facing huge environmental risks from climate change, water scarcity, ocean acidification, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and ecosystem degradation. We cannot afford to jeopardize the planet and the lives of future generations, only to achieve short term profits and satisfy short term interests, leaving a world behind where new drivers of poverty are existent. Short termism however, is what our current economic and political system is largely based on. This can and must be tackled by reversing current perverse and unsustainable economic incentives, eliminating all direct and indirect fossil subsidies as soon as possible, pricing external social and environmental costs of economic activities, taking serious the pollutor pays principle, moving beyond GDP, and transforming our outdated linear growth model into circular economic systems, which includes for example zero waste, smart resource usage and cradle to cradle strategies. What we need is better quality growth with less damage to the natural environment. It is possible to create a new, sustainable and equal economy, and many young people are already leading the way on local levels, if only we dare to change. Also we should seriously look at our investment choices. At this moment young people around the world are campaigning not to invest, but to divest from fossil fuels. The so-called carbon bubble poses huge financial risks for the future. We can’t keep valuing fossil fuels that should stay in the ground (that means two-thirds of all current reserves) in order to achieve the 2-degree climate change target Parties agreed to under the UNFCCC. And that whilst two degrees warming in general will already have severe and unequal impacts for many people, especially in the most vulnerable areas. We don’t need fossil fuels to survive. It’s rather the opposite. There are planetary boundaries which have to be included and tipping points that we can not cross, and which we are fastly approaching if we don’t turn things around quickly. Not only are there many unsustainable incentives that push in the wrong direction, we are literally discounting future generations in economics, as we undervalue the future in calculations by using an unequal discount rate. The future is simply worth less. So in that sense, there’s no need to take long term action or to invest in the future because everything today is worth more anyways. The value of future generations should at least be equal to that of our generation. We undervalue the future, but overcalculate profit from unrenewable resources, and in addition, costs of inaction on for example climate change continue to increase year after year. Today’s youth and future generations will inequitably suffer the costs, but also the dangers, fears, and increased risks.
We can no longer procrastinate. If we want true sustainable development, we should strongly integrate the needs of young and future generations in the post-2015 agenda. We need somebody to step up for them, like the Ombudsperson from Rio+20. We need long termism and not only look at the past and the present, but also at our shared responsibilities in the future. From a youth perspective, I challenge but also urge you to move beyond the North-South divide, to think about the global commons and to create a universal agenda for global prosperity. You need each other in this, and we need all of you, to take action.
Caring about future generations means caring about tomorrow’s young people. Caring about young people means caring about the future... well, you? The challenges we are facing, discussing, and want to solve, require effective and diverse partnerships in order to achieve the biggest impact. All groups, all stakeholders, all generations must be part of this agenda and find an active role in the implementation. But to get there, we must all feel the ownership. We need engagement and collaboration beyond the usual partners, strong empowerment of citizens, universal education for sustainable development - starting from the youngest age possible - and we need powershifts, men to women, and from the older to the younger. Both men and women should be able to make decisions. Both the older and the younger should be part of decision- making. We should do it together, create the common future together.
It is not possible to create an agenda and impose it on “the people” in 2016. We need to reach out to all of those not privileged to be here, and most of all listen to them. Not only do people desperately want to be included, we have to be included for post-2015 success. Because in case you haven’t noticed yet, the time of top-down as we know it is over, that’s not gonna save our world. We need the people in the communities, working on the ground level, ensuring implementation. Especially the next generation, their energy and innovative minds. Therefore active engagement needs to be strengthened and start now. We should use the post-2015 development agenda as a means to gain new trust in UN processes from people around the world, by giving them voice, space, and make them key part of the agenda. Without real people involved, words will be empty and goals can never ever be reached.
To make the post-2015 agenda inclusive and participatory for young people, we must ensure: (1) that under every SDG focus area, specific targets or subgoals on youth are developed. Today’s young people are more than willing and the best ones to ask to help you draft those. (2) that the lead of countries such as Sri Lanka and the Netherlands is followed by others as well, and that Member States closely engage young people in national youth delegate positions, in the coming 18 months of the process and beyond. (3) that after 2015, especially in the High Level Political Forum, young people and other non- political stakeholders are strongly included and are given a critical and central role, even though the name of the HLPF might suggests otherwise. (4) we must also ensure that all the wonderful remarks made by Member States yesterday regarding the crucial role of young people for post-2015 development, will be reflected not only in this event but also in the OWG and the 69th session of the UNGA. (5) that information and open data is provided so that the potential of the mass will be unlocked and can publicly overshadow the influential lobby from business as usual behind the scenes. (6) and that back at home, we start an inclusive conversation about the role of the people in post-2015, to make them part and prepared to help taking on the challenges that the goals will bring once they are decided upon. (7) and last, that all young people will be educated and aware of the sustainable development goals and the challenges of our generation, in which they all should be able to play an active role.
What concrete steps will you take, to work on intergenerational equity and justice, and include the young, in post-2015? Saying it is important is one thing - and the easy part - taking us serious in practice is less common. I mean, how many Member States brought young people here to talk and work with them, instead of talk about them? I look forward to hearing your concrete actions.
We OWE it to the people back home to do all that’s possible - and more - to be inclusive. We OWE it to the people to create a truly ambitious and transformative agenda. We owe it to people everywhere in the world. Even though the political process might be tough, never forget that it should be about people’s lives and not primarily about process and politics. And I know that many, many of you have doubts about political feasibility of a transformational agenda. While science tells us, that if we really want to and have enough willpower, we CAN do it, we can create the huge change that is needed. If you say that technological feasibility is there, but political isn’t, it’s you that has MUCH of work to do. Please, don’t fail us. But work with us. To conclude, when I spoke at the OWG in June last year on behalf of international youth from the Netherlands seat, I received amongst others a reaction from a youth organization in Kabul, Afghanistan which should not only be directed to me, but also to all of you. I quote: “We as a war- ravaged generation only struggle to learn from others and be part of a peaceful voice. We are hungry of education, development and prosperity, living alongside other nations and human beings in peace. We really need support of such you people.” (End quote) Young people around the world need you to work together, to unite as a team, and we need you to work with us. You OWE it to all young people and those still to born into this world, to be bold. To be strong. To be courageous. To take long term responsibility. To be transformational and life- changing. We count on you, and you can count on us to join you -- if you let us. I don’t want your applause. I want your action. I don’t need your praise. I need your politicians to take me and other young people serious. I am proud to be here with you. But I would much rather be proud of you. Proud that you promise me to do what needs to be done.
I thank you very much.