The Youth Debate within the SDGs

September 29, 2015

The Sustainable Development Goals comprising 17 goals with 169 targets for the years 2016-2030 are being debated on the extent to which it provides prominence to youth. The Open Working Group (OWG) of the General Assembly, comprising of 30 member states prepared the framework of the SDGs. They have recognized the fact that youth is one of the major groups that is central to the development of the SDGs that constitutes “The Major Groups” which are expected to facilitate the representation of all facets of society. Releasing the report, The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon asserted that “Young people will be the torch bearers of the next sustainable development agenda through 2030,” and that “Today, more than ever, the realities of 1.8 billion youth and adolescents represent a dynamic, informed, and globally connected engine for change. Integrating their needs, rights to choice and their voices in the new agenda, will be a key factor for success.” Ban has also explicitly referred to the youth of today as the “SDS generation”.

However, simply acknowledging the significance of youth on documents and speeches will not result in youth collaboration and participation around the world, which requires initiatives on a local level as well. Criticisms are presently been hauled at the OWG proposal for not containing “a stand-alone youth goal, and for simply mentioning “youth” or “young people” in just 3 of the 17 goals, in 6 of the 169 targets: 2 under the proposed goal on education (goal 4), 3 under the proposed goal on employment (goal 8), and 1 under the goal for climate change governance (goal 13).” This does not seem to encompass the constant emphasis that has been given on the importance of youth for sustainable development. It is a known fact in theory and practice that growth and development is more than skills and jobs; and that educational and economic success is interdependent with many variables including “health, safety and security, rights and participation, financial inclusion, and infrastructure.” According to the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth data, half of world’s population is under 30 years old yet the average age in parliaments is 53 years, with only 1.65% in their 20s. Though the importance of youth in decision making is harped by figure heads and international documents this data, for instance explains the extent to which youth are engaged in decision making in a country’s parliament process who is supposedly the best representatives of a country.

The SDG framework includes a number of important, such as poverty eradication, education, gender equality and employment for all from which the youth can derive benefits but the SDGs do not sufficiently address as to how the youth can be engaged and empowered in achieving these goals. Initiatives such as the launch of the youth division (SDSN-Y) of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) with the mission of “Empowering youth globally to create sustainable solutions” can be regarded as the consideration of the youth as catalysts that can bring about change. The SDSN-Y encourages young people to prioritize the SDGs through campaigns, educations programs, policy dialogues, research projects, and solutions initiatives, to acknowledge the role of youth in shaping the post-2015 agenda and to examine means of effective participation in the implementation phase. Such initiatives can assist the SDGs in realizing its target using the global youth energy.


  • Youth For SDGs

  • Youth in the SDGs: Getting Beyond the Rhetoric

  • The World We Want: The 2015 Global Action Report

  • Youth Engagement for a Sustainable Tomorrow

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