United Nations — “What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!” youth chanted in an unusually lively conference at the United Nations Headquarters.
Earlier on Thursday morning (September 14), almost 500 young people had streamed into the room to a DJ’s upbeat soundtrack. Spirits were high despite the more somber rallying cry of this year’s International Day of Peace youth event: the planet is on fire. Many speakers focused on the idea that there cannot be peace without climate justice.
“We cannot begin to talk about peace without talking about the climate crisis,” environmental justice advocate Saad Amer said after leading the crowd in the kind of chants more likely heard at a protest. Fossil fuel disputes spark wars that disproportionately affect people of color, Amer explained. Youth must take charge to “re-write destiny.”
To 21-year-old Mexican climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, “Peace is the ability to drink clean air and clean water.” Bastida, a member of the Otomi-Toltec indigenous community, spoke of her community’s traditional commitment to living in harmony with the earth. Now, indigenous people are being displaced as regenerative practices are forgotten. Bastida called for a world free of extreme weather and exploitation. The climate crisis reflects a broken system, she said, but peace is the bravery to imagine a better world.
Young people are “creating a youth movement for climate action, seeking racial justice, and promoting gender equality,” the Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, Melissa Fleming, told the audience. In a recorded statement, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated that youth action has power. Still, only four governments have concrete plans to include young people in policymaking, Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanyake noted.
As she lived through brutal conflicts in her home country of Sri Lanka, Wickramanayake said she wondered why people around her continued to fight. Today, she told other young activists that the root causes of conflict always run deep – from inequality to poverty. She stressed that peace cannot be differentiated from development.
The event occurs days before the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Summit, a critical opportunity for world leaders to address failures to implement the goals so far.
“Next week there will be an important breakthrough in creating the conditions to rescue the sustainable development goals. I’m very hopeful that the SDG summit will indeed represent a quantum leap in the response to the dramatic failures that we have witnessed,” Guterres said during a news conference.
Meanwhile, youth are left with memories of their chants: “The oceans are rising, and so are we!” “We are unstoppable – another world is possible!”
IPS UN Bureau Report