By Brigitte Griswold, Director of Youth Engagement Programs for The Nature Conservancy
On February 17th, I had the privilege of speaking on a panel at the 2016 Winter Youth Assembly at the United Nations, which gathered 1,000 participants from 70 countries to focus on the role of youth leaders in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Comprised of 17 Sustainable Development Goals ranging from eradicating world poverty and reducing inequality, to combating climate change and protecting our lands and waters, the goals are intended to "stimulate action over the next fifteen years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet."
My fellow panelists--Vanessa Cardenas, Director of Latino Outreach and Climático Project at the World Wildlife Fund, and Molly Bangs, Associate Special Projects Editor at The Huffington Post--and I fielded an array of questions from young people who will be leading the charge on implementing these ambitious goals. Their questions were challenging and insightful - ranging from the youth unemployment crisis to environmental injustices to sustainable development in China to reversing the gloom and doom narrative that dominates so much of the environmental dialogue.
I walked away from this assembly feeling so hopeful for the future, in spite of the fact that there are no shortages of big environmental problems for the world to tackle, and in spite of the fact that these challenges will disproportionately fall on the shoulders of younger generations.
I'm hopeful because as challenges mount for the planet, new leaders are rising to meet them. And I've never felt that more strongly than while looking out into the sea of young faces, who travelled from all around the world to foster dialogue and generate partnerships between UN officials, the private sector, nonprofits, and civil society, to lead our world into a more just, equitable, and sustainable future.
I took away two big epiphanies during this assembly. First, it was very clear that the Youth Assembly was created to deliberately include youth voices in the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. That day, in the General Assembly Hall, the youth who were likely to be the most impacted by climate change were at the table rolling up their sleeves to develop plans and actions that are relevant to them, their families and communities around the globe. What if all organizations that strive to serve youth included them in these kinds of large scale key decision making processes? That would be a truly empowering game changer - and I wonder how much the conservation movement writ large would benefit from a similar approach.
Second, I was inspired that these young leaders seem to be tackling environmental problems from a very different perspective than previous generations'- they are redefining what the environment means in an increasingly urban, interconnected, globalized and diverse world. The lenses through which they see environmental issues are as much about social equity, cultural identity, and economic development as they are about protecting landscapes and polar bears: they view these issues as interconnected and inseparable. And they are BIG! There are 1.8 billion young people between the age of 10-24, representing the largest and most diverse generation in history. They are exceedingly entrepreneurial, and doggedly hopeful about the future. I'm betting that because of all these things, they are likely to develop novel, intersectional approaches to environmental challenges.
This generation will forever impact the fabric and texture of the environmental movement. And I'm convinced they are the greatest hope for a truly sustainable future on planet earth.
This post is a part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with Friendship Ambassadors Foundation following the 2016 Youth Assembly at the United Nations held on February 17-18, 2016. The winter session tackled the role of youth in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To see all posts in the series, click here.