Event on Youth Engagement at the UN High Level Political Forum

Jul 11, 2020

The High-Level Political forum (HLPF) is the core United Nations platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. It is currently taking place at the United Nations and forty seven countries are submitting voluntary national reviews (VNRs) of their implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Peace Boat held a side event on the margins of the HLPF on July 9 entitled "Youth Engagement in the SDGs during the Pandemic: Voices from the Frontline of the Climate Crisis". It was co-organized with the Permanent Mission of Trinidad & Tobago to the United Nations, the UN SDG Action Campaign, the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification and March for Science, with collaboration from YOUNGO and held virtually. The event featured youth working for the 2030 Agenda in their own communities from countries that are presenting their VNRs this year, in particular Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Ambassador Beckles

H.E. Ms. Penelope Beckles, Permanent Representative of Trinidad and Tobago to the United Nations gave the opening remarks to the event. Trinidad and Tobago are submitting their VNR this year.  Ambassador Beckles spoke about how Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like Trinidad and Tobago are being affected by the pandemic including through the dramatic reduction in tourism, and the risk that funds allocated to the climate crisis will be used for the pandemic. But according to Ambassador Beckles, “While the Covid-19 pandemic is an immediate challenge, it cannot be solved within a vacuum… The 2030 Agreement and the Paris Agreement have in fact become more relevant. The existential risks from climate change are still ever-present with Trinidad & Tobago and the Caribbean faced with tackling the pandemic in a hurricane season that is projected to be very active”. Her Excellency said “We cannot return to business as usual and we must bring transformational change to our societies”.  She concluded by emphasizing the important and special role of youth in dealing with both the pandemic and the climate crisis.  

The youth panel was opened by Ms Kahdija Stewart, who joined Peace Boat’s Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador Programme on the 101st voyage and is also a representative from Trinidad and Tobago.  She is the founder of Ecovybz Environmental Creatives, an environmental blog to inspire young people in climate action. Khadija spoke candidly about the challenges the pandemic had brought to her work as an activist including problems with inspiration, motivation, feeling physically disconnected, and struggling with the difficulty with on the ground action. But her response has been to be creative and use the opportunities available. She is working on a documentary called “See Our Seas”, a podcast and a children’s book, “Anah’s Eco Adventures”. Khadija told the participants that while the pandemic has been devastating it has given us the opportunity to be creative and she is now more connected through online activities and events than she ever expected. 

Khadija was followed in her presentation with a fellow representative from the Caribbean. Sage Belgrave from Barbados joined Peace Boat’s Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador programme. Sage echoed the Ambassador’s words about the impact of the pandemic on the Caribbean, with the economic situation even leading to social unrest. While the pandemic has a devastating effect, the climate crisis remains the largest threat. Barbados has since 2011 been dealing with the impact of Sargassum seaweed brought to the island because of the warming ocean, harming wildlife and affecting the tourism industry. Sage has been working as a research assistant at the University of the West Indies (UWI) where they are conducting research to convert sargassum to biofuel, which is renewable, green and clean making it in alignment with SDG 13 for climate action. “The UWI which is located all across the Caribbean uses its online platform, UWI TV not only to aid in their protection against COVID-19 but also to remind the community of the continual fight against the climate crisis,” said Sage. 

Mr Avinash Pratap Singh who joined Peace Boat’s 96th Global Voyage on the “Youth for the SDGs” Program spoke about his work with the non-profit and grassroots organization, Waste Warriors which manages waste on the ground in India. Avinash explained how they deal with sensitive ecosystems and work with local communities to reduce waste from the top to prevent it from reaching the ocean, which is our source of life. The global pandemic brought a lot of challenges for Waste Warriors due to financial problems with management and also keeping community members safe and providing essentials such as food and medical supplies to the community. Waste Warriors are focusing on migration based livelihood and providing jobs for people who are unemployed because of the COVID crisis.


March for Science, a co-organizer of the side-event was represented by Mr Chet Monday, Director of Youth Engagement. March for Science is the largest number of science advocates worldwide. Chet spoke about the organization’s work to bring science to the front of understanding the climate crisis, in particular, the campaign, Science not silence. The campaign calls for governments to;  publicly embrace the IPCC 1.5C special report and for it to be adopted at COP 26; raise nationally determined contributions/climate goals to reflect the science and urgency of IPCC 1.5C special report and finally; Create genuine durable scalable partnerships.  Chet said that 1.5 is a critical number especially for low lying countries and Small Island States (SIDS). 

This year, Morocco is also presenting their VNR at the HLPF and Mr Hatim El Otmani joined the event from Morocco to give an African youth perspective. Hatim is the Founder and President of Atlas For Development and African Youth Climate Hub Ambassador. According to Hatim, despite them being some of the most affected by the pandemic’s socio-economic impact, young people have only been showing more leadership and dedication to their respective communities and fellow citizens. In Morocco, despite the suspension of all activities as well as the closure of all educational institutions and mosques until further notice, young people have been in the frontlines of the initiatives taken. Hatim shared how his own organization Atlas4 Development has been campaigning to show the best initiatives for the SDGs and their members have participated in online workshops on leadership, SDGs and entrepreneurship. They have been invited by the African Union to facilitate the very first virtual African Youth Consultation. As African Youth Climate Hub Ambassador, Hatim has been active during the Pandemic, by reminding people that “COVID19 is a serious threat to people’s health but limited in time, and that Climate Change is a  greater threat with unlimited duration”. He has taken part in the #JoinUN75 Campaign and with the UN Youth Envoy Office through the Reach not Preach platform. Finally, through the Mohammed VI Foundation for Environmental Protection, young environmentalist reporters joined on an online conference on journalism during COVID19 highlighting the need to keep reporting on and making people aware of climate change.

The youth panel was followed by three responders; Ms Laura Hildebrandt, Head of Outreach at the UN SDG Action Campaign, Ms Jessie Turner, Project Coordinator at International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, and Ms Heeta Lankhani, YOUNGO Youth Focal Point for the Global South. Laura shared about the work of the SDG Action Campaign during the pandemic including the Global Day of Solidarity which took place in May. She said that people’s lives had been turned upside down in so many ways but at some point there becomes an awareness of the possibility of change. The SDG Action Campaign is launching a campaign to inspire people to build a better world, calling it a “Turning Point for People and Planet”.  The pandemic is a “special moment in time, a moment for a policy window, a real moment for change” and the campaign aims to steer this moment into positive change. It will focus around the Global Week to Act for SDGs 15-25 September. Jessie Turner shared about the work of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification and noted that the alliance was a broad network of national governments, state provinces, civil society, and more. The session closed with a special contribution from Ms Heeta Lankhani also speaking from a youth perspective. Heeta was representing YOUNGO, the Youth Constituency of the UNFCCC. Heeta explained that YOUNGO creates an official space for young people to be a part of the negotiations. She concluded by saying “Our future is not negotiable”.