Youth play leadership role in achieving 17 global goals for sustainable development

Youth engage as global citizens in learning about and supporting the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

While people of all ages share in the goal of creating a sustainable and healthy planet, it is the youngest members of the global population who may have the most to win or lose in whether we achieve targets for sustainable living. Decisions made by individuals, countries and as an international community will have long lasting impacts that will continue affecting the lives of the members of our youngest generation, who will have more time to spend on the planet in the future than older generations, for many years to come.

In September 2015, world leaders at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly unanimously adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda) at the UN Sustainable Development Summit. The agenda includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals that collectively seek to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all by the year 2030. Sustainable development is defined by the United Nations as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” With goals as significant as addressing “inequalities, economic growth, decent jobs, cities and human settlements, industrialization, oceans, ecosystems, energy, climate change, sustainable consumption and production, peace and justice,” in every single country, the 169 targets included in the 2030 Agenda have been described as “the most ambitious goals in history”. The Sustainable Development Goals are interrelated, and achieving any one goal rests on the ability of people to achieve all the goals. The Sustainable Development Goals build upon the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which set the agenda for sustainable development during the first 15 years of the 21st century.

The Sustainable Development Goals are:

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
  4. Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.
  5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
  6. Ensure access to water and sanitation for all.
  7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
  8. Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries.
  11. Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
  12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.
  15. Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss.
  16. Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies.
  17. Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

Youth, who are the generation with the most to gain or lose depending on the extent to which these goals are achieved, were involved in helping to shape the Sustainable Development Goals and have the opportunity to take on key leadership roles in understanding, promoting and supporting efforts to help the world achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. One key role that youth can play in supporting the Sustainable Development Goals is helping to make sure others are aware of the 2030 Agenda and its importance. Project Everyone, an organization that has set a goal of making sure everyone on the planet is aware of the Sustainable Development Goals, shares the goal of promoting the Sustainable Development Goals with youth. According to Project Everyone, their outreach efforts have already come half-way to achieving the goal of reaching every single person on the planet with information about the Sustainable Development Goals. The organization believes it is critical to make sure everyone is aware of the Sustainable Development Goals because people who are informed and knowledgeable of the Sustainable Development Goals can help to hold their governments and leaders accountable for working to achieve these critical goals.

Youth are currently engaging in leadership roles in relation to the implementation of 2030 Agenda by participating in forums with world leaders, such as the recently held United Nations Economic and Social Council Youth Forum, which provided “youth representatives with an opportunity to voice their opinion, share ideas and to think together about specific issues of relevance to youth in the context of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” Youth are also active leaders within groups and organizations that seek to support the 2030 Agenda such as the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth and the Sustainable Development Solution Network Youth Division, among many others.

Youth can engage as leaders supporting the Sustainable Development Goals on an individual basis or working in small groups, such as the Meek family from the United Kingdom, who have embarked on a family challenge to remove 100,000 plastic bottles from the environment and encourage others to limit their consumption of single-use disposable plastic products. Getting involved in promoting the Sustainable Development Goals can even start with something as simple as a selfie! A Global Goals Selfie gives youth the opportunity to support the Sustainable Development Goals by sharing a photograph of themselves promoting the Sustainable Development Goal they feel most passionate about within their social networks.

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program provide opportunities and resources for youth interested in developing leadership and global citizenship knowledge and skills. Youth interested in learning more about youth leadership and the Sustainable Development Goals may want to consider participating in the session “17 Global Goals and 3 Extraordinary Things” at the 2016 Michigan 4-H Exploration Days program. The session will explore youth roles in supporting the Sustainable Development Goals and the role MSU plays in addressing the goals.

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