SDG Resources for Youth!
The Power of Youth and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Youth are at the forefront of progress and innovation. Around the world today, there are approximately 1.2 billion young people aged 15 to 24 years, accounting for 16% of the world’s population (UN Global Issues Youth n.d.). As one of the fastest growing populations, young people everywhere are uniting together to drive positive change, responding to complex challenges, such as climate change and gender equality. As an example, Greta Thunberg protested outside the Swedish parliament in 2018 at only 15 years old, sparking a global movement of school-age students demanding greater action from governments to fight against climate change. Fridays for the Future, a global school strike started by Greta Thhunberg’s actions continues today. Inspired by youth leadership, millions of young people continue to speak up for climate action, governments are increasingly pressured to tackle the problem.
The power of youth in shaping the world and our communities is undeniable. Achieving the ambitious targets of the SDGs will not be possible without the collective action and the support of young people. It is clear that young people must play a central role in the 2030 Agenda to drive a more just, equitable and sustainable future for all. Therefore, engaging youth on the SDGs represents one of the key steps to realizing these goals. In particular, the concept of global and local citizenship as well as participation are at the core of engaging youth on the SDGs. On a local level, youth leaders are essential to the localization of SDGs in their communities and to catalyze action to implement lasting systematic changes. With the signing of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, Canada has agreed that young people under the age of 18 have the right to participate in decision-making. In addition to these important elements, young people should be empowered with the skills and education they need to contribute towards a more sustainable society. This may include both direct instruction from schools and universities, but also peer-to-peer education through conversation and the sharing of meaningful resources and knowledge.
5 Ways Connecting Youth to the SDGs
Empowering youth with education is one of the most effective ways to advance the SDGs. Ensuring both educators and students in secondary and post-secondary settings know about the SDGs, and use them in relevant ways to frame, plan, and contextualize their studies and initiatives. As an initiative of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the SDG AcademyX at eDX offers free graduate level courses on sustainable development for learners globally. SDG Cities offers free interactive sessions designed to help students aged 15-25 to deepen their understanding of the SDGs and translate their knowledge to action. SDGs in Action is an app that has been developed for those who are interested in learning SDGs on the go!
The importance of valuing youth for who they are, and recognizing their diversity, knowledge and lived experiences as the foundation of their ability to contribute to the SDGs. It is vital to find ways to responsibly engage young people and their organizations, networks and movements, that are traditionally left out of decision-making ladders, to advance the SDGs in line with its fundamental principle of “leaving no one behind”. A SDG handbook for youth is available on the UN SDG website, which outlines a myriad of roles youth can play in the SDGs. The SDSN Youth is an organization that empowers youth to shape a more sustainable world for the future and places youth at the forefront of achieving the SDGs. The SDG Awards celebrates changemakers across the world who create different ways to drive progress towards the SDGs. In Canada, the SDG Youth Awards is a new initiative highlighting the contributions of young people aged 30 and below towards achieving the SDGs. The #RisingYouth Podcast from TakingITGlobal is a place where youth share their voices and raise awareness about youth-led sustainability and community development initiatives across Canada. Similarly, the YPA Policy Corner is a space for youth across Turtle Island to engage in policy discussions and learn skills in the policy space.
The collaboration between community members and youth creates invaluable opportunities that are beneficial to both the community as a whole as well as helping youth to define their own roles within that community. The SDG campaign focuses on taking collaborative action together to build a better future for all. The BCCIC Movement Map tracks thousands of organizations locally, nationally and internationally that are working towards the SDGs. To enhance youth community participation, UNA Canada recruits youth ambassadors aged 15-25 years for their program, aimed to create service initiatives that address relevant issues identified in local communities.
A connection to culture and self-expression is a way for youth to use their skills in creative capacities as well as to make positive change in their communities. In Indigenous communities where intergenerational trauma has resulted in severe mental health struggles, connection to culture is a vehicle for survival and an integral part of health and wellbeing of Indigenous youth. This acts as a prerequisite to youth being able to think about or contribute to the goals. Moreover, Indigenous local knowledge encompasses language, systems of classification, resource use practices, social interactions, rituals and spirituality which is integral to the achievement of the SDGs. For Indigenous youth, storytelling is one way to advocate and dictate their own identity.
Recent climate strikes are examples that illustrate the collective power of youth leadership. Youth can also be leaders in their local schools, universities, clubs, student councils, and community groups. The Foundation for Environmental Stewardship (FES) is a youth-led organization that empowers youth across Canada through training, education, advocacy, and mentorship. The 3% project is one of the umbrella programs nurtured by FES with the goal to galvanize youth to take local action towards climate change in their own communities. Another example is ReImagine17, a national community of youth working to reimagine approaches to social, environmental, and economic challenges through anti-oppressive, intersectional and interdisciplinary collaboration with the goal of encouraging youth to reflect on sustainable frameworks like the SDGs. They developed an interactive SDG toolkit for sharing student knowledge and amplifying national youth voice on the SDGs. The Youth Climate lab Infiltration Manual is also a useful resource for those who are interested in taking action against climate change.
Youth Action and the SDGs
Having safe drinking water is a human right; however, this still represents one of the most challenging issues faced by many Indigenous communities across Canada. Autumn Peltier, who has been fighting for water conservation and Indigenous water rights since she was 12 years old, confronted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, telling him that she was unhappy with his policies on controversial pipeline projects. Since 2015, 87 long-term water advisories in Canada have been lifted; but 56 water advisories still remain. Autumn has also spoken at the UN about the importance of water conservation and water access, explaining the sacred role water plays in her culture. Now 18, Autumn continues to advocate for clean water access for Indigenous peoples and in 2019, she was named Chief Water commissioner for the Aniishnabek Nation.
“Many people don’t think water is alive or has a spirit. My people believe this to be true. … We believe our water is sacred because we are born of water.“Autumn Peltier
The SDGs are a universal framework for “Transforming our world.” To achieve this transformation, youth engagement and participation must be placed at the centre of its agenda. Youth should be recognized for who they are and their roles as partners, leaders and innovators in their communities. Their meaningful participation in the SDGs will better position the world to achieve the 17 SDGs and their targets.
As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres states during International Youth Day 2022 on the power of partnerships, “this year’s theme — “Intergenerational Solidarity: Creating a World for All Ages” — reminds us of a basic truth: we need people of all ages, young and old alike, to join forces to build a better world for all.”
Interested in learning more then check out the list below of additional resources!
- Feeling lazy? Don’t worry, you can still save the world! Check out this guide Lazy person’s guide to taking action to save the world!
- Still thinking about what actions to take to change the world? Here is a list of 170 daily actions to transform the world to get you started.
- This 3 minute video explains what Leaving No One Behind means for people across the globe.
- Join this young changemakers’ podcast to discuss issues that matter to you!
- Heard about the importance of storytelling lately? Check out how stunning SDG story telling can take many shapes and forms!
- A list of 10 Teen Climate Activist in Canada to inspire you!
UN Global Issues Youth (n.d.) UN [https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/youth], accessed 1 Nov 2022.