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The COVID-19 recovery must super-charge progress towards the 2030 Agenda

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Mary Robinson calls for the COVID-19 recovery to super-charge progress towards the 2030 Agenda, with gender equality and parity of decision-making at its core.

This speech was delivered at a virtual policy forum entitled "Youth, Peace and Climate Action" co-hosted by the International Peace Institute, the governments of Sweden and Singapore, the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, the UN Office for Partnerships, the Office of the Assistant Secretary-General on Climate Action, the Global Challenges Foundation, the United Network of Young Peacebuilders and the UN75 Campaign, on 22 October 2020.


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,

It is a pleasure to participate in this important and timely event today on the intersections and imperatives of youth, peace and climate action.

To me, these three themes are in fact a trinity: indivisible and the sum of their parts. You will not have one without either of the others.

Indeed, I am reminded of the wise words of my dearly-missed friend Kofi Annan:

“The human family will not enjoy development without security, will not enjoy security without development, and will not enjoy either without respect for human rights.”

By the same token, youth will not prosper without peace, peace will not be built or sustained without the involvement of youth, and climate action most certainly will not be effective without either a bedrock of peace or the fierce clarity of youth activism.

2020 should have been a year where youth, peace and climate action were at the forefront of the global conversation.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, the twenty-fifth anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which emphasised the importance of women’s role in peace and security affairs, and the fifth anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Young people have played a critical role in all these landmarks and have continued to demand action for peace and justice throughout 2020, despite the constraints imposed on all of us by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, our planetary health is in a critical condition on numerous fronts.

The context of a deadly pandemic, its severe economic impact and the interaction of both these shocks with the pre-existing existential threat of a climate crisis pose immense challenges to leaders, policymakers, multilateral institutions, scientists, academics, businesses, youth -very importantly- and civil society alike.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of all is to infuse a sense of sustained urgency into the public sphere, to put real political pressure on leaders to act according to the long-term interests of all their citizens, and to counter the voice of cynical populists and narrow nationalists.

COVID-19 has exposed the interconnections between health, economic and political risks of inaction and neglect.

The virus knows no borders and pays no attention to national sovereignty. It has left a devastating cost; first and foremost in human lives, but also in terms of economic growth, political momentum, social and racial inequality and the loss of crucial opportunities for educational and social development for millions of young people across the planet.

I think, in particular, for the many more young girls being forced into early child marriage.

It will be essential as we emerge from the crisis and “build back better,” that we use the recovery to super-charge progress towards the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement, and that the commitment to gender equality and parity of decision-making is at its very core.

Now is our opportunity to make change happen by design. The foundations of this new design, however, will remain those that have underpinned the global rules-based system since 1945: a strong, accountable and inclusive United Nations, and the rights and freedoms enshrined under international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

To realise this new design, we will need to listen to the voices of young people.

In the climate sphere, they are telling us to listen to the science – and listen we must.

In peace and security, they are demanding a rejection of the failed models of the past, and an end to opaque, patriarchal and sectarian institutions and practices that can make “peace-processes” more of a carve-up between vested interests than a genuine commitment to end conflict and rebuild a peaceful, inclusive society.

Talking to you today as Chair of The Elders, I am conscious that I should not presume to speak on behalf of this eloquent and passionate young generation!

Instead, I would like to end with a quote from one particularly inspiring young woman who has become a friend of mine. The indigenous activist Xiye Bastida has been at the forefront of the global youth movement for climate justice, and she said:

“We need to recognise each other to bring dignity forward. The fight for climate justice must be done with holistic solutions in mind. Solutions that tackle the problem at the root in order to bring forward a just, equitable, connected, and proactive future.”

Thank you, and I wish you all well in your continued conversations and endeavours.


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