Taking the Youth (20) Seriously: Because the World Depends on Us

Photo credits: Bundesregierung / Steffi Loos

Photo credits: Bundesregierung / Steffi Loos

By Morrell Andrews
YDC 2017 Youth 20 Delegate

In June, the Youth 20 Summit took place in Berlin, hosted by the 2017 German G20
Presidency. As one of the official G20 engagement groups, the Y20 saw a total of 31 countries
represented by 73 delegates who brought together the views of youth from all around the
world. Over the course of nine days of meetings the delegates negotiated a range of topics –
from digitalization and climate change, to terrorism and global trade. The end result was a 30-
page Communiqué that spanned eleven complex policy areas of relevance for presidents, prime
ministers, and policy makers everywhere. With youth as the central focus of the Summit, the
policy recommendations presented to Chancellor Angela Merkel on the penultimate day took
on a distinct dimension characterized by shared progressive values, a sense of urgency, and a
forward-looking approach to empower the largest youth population that the world has ever
seen.

The same could not be said, however, for the Leaders’ Declaration document that was
released in July after the G20 Summit in Hamburg. Within the final Communiqué, young people
are referenced only five times in total. In every case these references position the world’s youth
as clients in need of educational and work opportunities rather than as critical partners in
solving the world’s challenges. While it is true that young people face an increasingly daunting
skills gap as our economies move toward greater automation and technological sophistication
and that unemployment and precarious work conditions disproportionately impact youth, this
perspective on people between the ages of 14-30 that places youth as mere beneficiaries of
policy is inherently problematic.

World leaders often like to refer to students and young professionals as the “leaders of
tomorrow.” This is both an unproductive and categorically dishonest way to position the
youngest people of the world. At best, it signals that we have significant responsibility to look
to in the future, but not quite in the present. At worst, it legitimizes the push to the peripherythat we often experience in international and domestic politics that results in being told “not
yet.”

The 2017 German Presidency took meaningful action to better include the younger
perspective by hosting and funding delegate participation during a very successful Youth 20
Summit. By investing resources and incorporating high-level government officials in the Summit
programming, an important precedent was set for future G20 Presidencies, especially for
Argentina as they assume the role of host for the 2018 Summit. Further, Chancellor Merkel’s
90-minute meeting with the entire group of delegates to have a dialogue on the policy
recommendations sent a strong message for the future of the Y20 Summit – that when we look
beyond tokenistic engagement, world leaders and youth can have productive and substantive
conversations about the future of international policy that affects us all.

This was a huge step that bolstered the legitimacy of the youth agenda and advocacy
effort on topics like women’s empowerment, displacement and refugees, as well as the 2030
Agenda for Sustainable Development. As a result of the Y20 Summit, delegates have held
follow-up activities with their G20 Sherpas, heads of government, UN agencies, the media, and
youth organizations.

Where the German Presidency failed to include youth specifically, though, was within
the most high-level segments of the G20 Summit. In the months leading up to Hamburg, a
number of official engagement groups met to coordinate policy recommendations and present
their Communiqués to influence G20 negotiations. Some of these official groups, along with the
Y20, include the Women 20 (W20), Business 20 (B20), Think Tank 20 (T20), and Civil 20 (C20).

The W20 meetings were highly publicized around the world and were attended by high
profile guests including Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, International
Monetary Fund Chief Christine Lagarde, and Ivanka Trump. Throughout the Leaders’ Summit,
the pinnacle of the G20 process, engagement groups received accreditation to disseminate

their policy recommendations to the media, country delegations, as well as other stakeholders
like the WHO, UN, or OECD. The B20 and C20 held a joint press conference during the Summit
and had representatives present to act as advocates of their respective meeting outcomes. This
sustained lobbying effort by stakeholders is hugely influential in the negotiation process and
ultimate outcome document of the Summit.

Notably absent from the entirety of the Hamburg Summit were the youth of the Y20.
Perhaps it is because of this lack of presence that the Leaders’ Declaration only mentions youth
five times, regarding them as clients rather than partners. Young people are committed to
being more than passive actors because the policies that are being written by current
leadership will determine the kind of world that we will live in for many years to come. For this
reason, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement were
articulated as absolute and pressing priorities by the youth of the G20, though leaders only
briefly addressed these frameworks and the Sustainable Development Goals in their
Communiqué. It is disappointing that young people did not have an opportunity to raise a
strong, unified voice about the future we want for ourselves at one of the most important
multilateral meetings of the year.

If the leaders of the G20 really hope to achieve the targets of our ambitious
international and domestic agreements there must be a fundamental shift in understanding of
the role that young people have to play. We are not the leaders of tomorrow. We are the
engaged leaders of the present who are active in entrepreneurship, academia, humanitarian
affairs, peace building, innovation, politics, civil society, healthcare, education, and so much
more. Young leadership is dynamic and adaptive, and brings skills and competencies that other
generations of leaders do not possess. This is a critical time to take action on fighting climate
change, ensuring the global economy works for everyone, and to address the root causes of
insecurity. We need to begin drawing upon the diverse expertise of young people while truly
including them in discussion as well as implementation to ensure that the ambitious agendas
being set are sustained beyond the current political cycle.

The issues that the world collectively faces demands collaboration across ages, partisan
lines, and borders. Governments at all levels must leverage its youth beyond tokenistic
platitudes if they hope to realize a more sustainable, equitable, and peaceful world for all
people, everywhere.

In short, youth need to be taken seriously as critical actors that are central to achieving
international progress – because the future of the world depends on us today.