"The future will be whatever we make it, and we'll make it together."

Speeches on sustainable development 
by Ralien Bekkers at the United Nations
Imagining the future we (don't) want
Let me take you on a journey with youth around the world. I want you to put yourself in the shoes of an innocent young person.
Can you imagine, yourself struggling to stay alive? Living in danger and fear all day and night? Can you imagine, no access to the most basic needs, risking to die of hunger or thirst, or no access to toilets or tampons? Can you imagine, no education, skills or training? Or being abducted or shot on your way to school? Can you imagine, no employment? Not knowing what to do with yourself, with your life? Can you imagine, your livelihood threatened because of climate change, or having to escape your flooded home? And can you imagine, being the largest part of the population, but having no say in any decision being made about your life, your future, because of systemic corruption in your country?
Just imagine. And put yourself in the shoes of a young person, that lives like that, every day. This is not an exception. It is a very common reality, most likely far outside our comfort zones. Innocent children and youth all around the world are struggling right now. Suffering from crises and conflicts all around the world And soon, many more wars will arise over water, food and scarce resources. If we don’t act NOW.
Let me take you back to the reality of the post-2015 negotiations. International youth through the MGCY (Major Group for Children and Youth) have been tirelessly involved in the process so far. Even though some progress has been made in the OWG (Open Working Group), reality is that over the past year, we witnessed unreadiness to outgrow linear growth, disregard of our sexual and reproductive rights, unwillingness to overcome fossil fuel addiction, disrespect of the earth’s carrying capacity, and no consensus on peace, justice and human rights.
This is not the world I want. Nor any young person to my knowledge. Politics, profits and power are overruling people and planet. This is an unacceptable reality. In this perspective, my generation is one with poor prospects, and ending hope. Do you want that?
However, young people also possess endless potential, and we are drivers beyond this status quo. We, the young people, in all our diversity, are the future, and we are here right now. There are 1.8 billion of us. About 87% living in developing nations. And young people around the world areacting now. We are leading revolutions, we innovate, we solve challenges as social entrepreneurs. Young people are a significant as well as a neglected part of the solution. We are your greatest asset, if only… It is time to unite with the young people, it is time for you to reach out and include a new generation, acting together, harnessing the power of the crowd.
And let me be clear. We all owe it to the young people that are struggling, to do more than we could possibly imagine, to rise beyond ourselves. Going beyond the system as it is, doing what must be done. No longer quietly accepting what is truly not right.
Achieving this will never be possible, when working alone. This is not a one man’s game. Influence comes only to those that collaborate. Build a strong connected network of civil society and new allies all around the world, focusing on lasting impact. Dare to be critical about others, as well as about ourselves, continuously trying to improve. We all need to get out of our comfort zones and show real courage. We will only win when united as nations, as organizations, and as people. Doing good is no longer enough. Post-2015 should be about doing better, together.
I could go on for hours. But we should really stop talking now, and start doing. And clearly, my time is up. Don’t let us run out of time by talking too much. Because in reality, way more important than words, are bold actions. That is what will ultimately determine the future. And bold actions aren’t going to be taken by somebody else. Those actions need to be taken by me and you. Yes, you. What is stopping you from doing more? Imagine standing in a young person’s shoes. What will you change today?
Partnerships between generations
Last week I told my little brother that I would be far away from home for a conference about the future. “Can I please come with you?” he directly asked me. It struck me as a quite logical question. After all, it is his future too, isn’t it? I explained how I would do the work for him this time. More importantly, I promised him that there would be a room filled with very important and intelligent people that would also have his best interests, and those of all other families around the world, at heart.
Isn’t it actually strange that we are discussing youth here, without hardly any youth present in the room? That we are deciding about the future, without future generations being part of these discussions? It is good to talk about young people, but it is much more powerful and meaningful to talk with young people.
You will then find that young people share many of your concerns. And better, that we often have a clear view on how to achieve improvements. I am going to ask you urgently to give your attention to youth priorities such as education and employment, equality and good governance. They are high ranking on the younger generation’s agendas.
In an ideal world we should not have to ask for help. But reality is, that many legal, policy and regulatory barriers hinder the meaningful participation and empowerment of young people to exercise and claim their rights. We must however put young people at the center of the design, implementation and monitoring of the future goals.
Meanwhile, I am most thankful to the governments of Australia, the Netherlands and the UK for the opportunity to speak. Although this statement does not represent the governments of the countries, it does represent the voices of their youth. But it also includes the ideas of tens of other young people from around the world, since they were actively involved in the open writing process of this speech.
In doing so, something became perfectly clear. We, as people, despite our differences and diverse cultures, should work together as one. We have to make sure that all cultures, all ages and all differences between people are recognized in the goals. Diversity is not a weakness, it is our strength. Youth is demonstrating it by working together, transcending national boundaries. Over and over again, our work results in common statements and solutions. It is possible.
We support strong and ambitious SDGs that not only promote a sustainable and safe world, but also tackle the problems that get in the way. I’m speaking of economic inequality and youth unemployment, weak governance structures, natural resource inefficiency and violations of human rights.
Recently, the High Level Panel did a good job putting young people at the center of the discussions but still needs to incorporate more youth focused indicators. We feel that the report provides a baseline for strong SDGs but should build on the work done by others including the Commonwealth Youth Development Index and the Major Group of Children and Youth in creating goals and targets, disaggregating data, and we should even consider a youth specific goal.
In addition, we must rethink the way that we approach development. We call on Member States to work towards a holistic approach, defining “well-being” that incorporates environmental and social considerations, beyond the economic focus of GDP.
First, the fast increasing numbers of youth unemployment are of major concern. We as youth should be educated to tackle current and future challenges. We must be equipped with new and sustainable skills that prepare for work. Not to search desperately, in some cases even for years, for a low quality job. Investment in quality education is of high priority and generates immediate and intergenerational paybacks. But only if governments prioritize creation of green and decent jobs, building a sustainably skilled workforce by increased investment, together with private sector, in order to enhance national ecosystems for youth enterprise.
Second, the new framework should make an explicit commitment to the meaningful inclusion of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. We must remove the barriers they face for accessing basic services, economic opportunities, political representation, and human rights. Supporting equal opportunities and reducing social inequalities will lead to more sustainable societies. Investing in girls, for instance, is one of the single most effective interventions for reducing poverty. SDGs should ensure girls’ access to education and health services, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, and promoting policies that empower their role in society.
And third, fair, responsive and accountable governance is among top priorities of young people around the world. We vow for a world where decision-makers have integrity, responsibility and are held to account. A world where governance systems are designed to take courageous decisions for long-term benefit. Truth is, nowadays many young people feel disempowered by the systems that are supposed to represent them. This creates distrust, which should be actively avoided. Let’s face it: you do not only need us for designing these goals, but you will need us all the more to achieve them by 2030.
Unfortunately, none of the young people I spoke with in my country knew about this very “far away” process. Therefore we would like you to think of a way how to make sure that all children and youth around the world learn about and know the SDGs from 2015 onwards, and feel like they are part of it.
You can start now. Talk, listen and work together with us for the challenges of our futures. Here at the UN, and back at home. We must become partners and allies for sustainable development. The nuanced perspectives of youth on these issues can provide new solutions and mobilize youth as assets and problem solvers.
There is so much potential. Do you know that an Indian teen girl recently developed a super energy efficient 20-second cell phone charger? That a high school student in the USA designed the fastest and cheapest cancer detector ever? And that a 19-year-old boy from the Netherlands created a system to clean the plastic soup in the oceans? Also, Bill Gates & Steve Jobs created revolutionary innovations when they were only 21. Without these young ideas, we would never be where we are today. Youth innovations should play a prominent role in the new development framework. But it really is your task to stimulate and empower all of us, in order to become part of the solution. Only when we succeed in forming intergenerational partnerships right now, focusing on intergenerational equity and solidarity, we have a chance on real and long-term success.
Ladies and gentlemen, way more important than all the beautiful words are the actions that should follow from them. All young people, and families around the world, count on you and your actions. We look forward to actively working with you, to create and achieve the goals for our common, sustainable future. Because not only youth, but a partnership of generations, will be part of the solution.
?How old will you be in 2030
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 probably 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 and today 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, for example as social entrepreneurs.
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.”
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.