Chinese Youth Dialogue with UN Under-Secretary-General Guy Ryder: Youth Co-creating a Sustainable Future


"At present, the world is facing many challenges. Climate change, poverty, and other issues remain unresolved, and new technologies pose fresh challenges to humanity. No single country can solve these problems alone, and so multilateral cooperation is essential." "Compared to other age groups, young people have a stronger desire to engage in international cooperation. We must provide them with more opportunities to participate in decision-making." On March 27th, at the "Youth Round Table on Sustainable Development", UN Under-Secretary-General Guy Ryder called on Chinese youth to be more involved in and promote sustainable development endeavors.

This September, the UN Summit of the Future will be held in New York during the UN General Assembly, where the outcome document “ The Pact for the Future” will be released. The summit aims to reach a new international consensus on advancing the UN's Agenda for Sustainable Development and revitalizing the multilateral process. It also calls for empowering and promoting youth participation in decision-making processes. This year, China will also host the third World Youth Development Forum, bringing together the strength of youth from various countries to promote the implementation of ?Global?Development?Initiative and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. "Multilateralism", "youth", and "sustainable development" are the common keywords for these two significant events.

At the Round Table, representatives of Chinese youth from various sectors engaged in in-depth dialogue with Guy Ryder, discussing issues of widespread concern among contemporary young people and exchanging solutions from perspectives of both thought and action . The efforts made by China to promote youth development were also highly recognized by the international participants. After the meeting, Guy Ryder and Siddharth Chatterjee, United Nations Resident Coordinator in China, praised Chinese youth on social media, encouraging more and more Chinese young people to step onto the international stage and contribute their voices as well as strength to building a better future.

1 From receiving assistance to self-reliance and then to helping others, Chinese youth are propelling the comprehensive development of society

"Development is for the youth, and development also relies on the youth. " Xu Xiao, President of the All-China Youth Federation, stated that the federation actively advocates for a youth-oriented development approach and mobilizes young people to play a leading role in areas such as economic development, democracy and rule of law, social services, as well as ecological civilization.

When it comes to public welfare education in China, "Project Hope" is often the first thing that comes to people's mind. Since 1989, the China Youth Development Foundation, initiated by the All-China Youth Federation, has been implementing Project Hope, dedicated to promoting the rational allocation of educational resources and advancing educational equity. According to Zhang Wenzhe, Assistant Director of the Cooperation and Development Department of the China Youth Development Foundation, over the past 30 years, Project Hope has helped young people in less developed areas make a leap from simply "having books to read" to "reading good books", and from "receiving aid for schooling" to "being nurtured".

Fang Rong, who studied at the Hope Elementary School in Luotian, Hubei Province, learned that her alma mater was lacking young teachers. After graduating from university, she took the initiative to return and teach there. Deng Yi, a beneficiary of Project Hope, applied to teach in the western regions after completing his postgraduate studies, hoping to help children like him "see a broader and more expansive sky". Similarly, the Hainan Qiongzhong women's football team, also funded by Project Hope, won the Gothenburg Cup World Youth Football Championship, becoming a role model for many girls... Zhang Wenzhe said that these young people's stories of pursuing and realizing dreams prove that "education can create hope for the growth of youth and can change their fates. Their stories are also a microcosm of the transformative journey experienced by many beneficiaries of Project Hope, which is from being helped to helping themselves and then to helping others." .

In the important field of environmental protection for sustainable development, young people are never absent. In 1999, the All-China Youth Federation, in conjunction with various ministries, launched "The Mother River Protection Operation", organizing and mobilizing the public, especially young people, to participate in environmental conservation. To date, over 346,000 hectares of "Youth Forests" have been built, involving more than 600 million young people, earning the United Nations' "Champions of the Earth" Award.

"In the new era of building a beautiful China, we Chinese youth are actively embodying the concept that 'lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets'." In the research team at the Yangtze River Biodiversity Research Center, where engineer Dun Bicheng works, young scientific talents under 35 years old account for 67%. Over the past decade, the team has accumulated valuable experience in ecological restoration along reservoir shorelines. On March 12th this year, which is the Arbor Day, the team successfully reintroduced over 500 space-induced mutant plants back into the wild. "This is the first time in academic circles, and we hope to pioneer new approaches for the ecological restoration of the Yangtze River."

Advancing development in various sectors of society cannot be achieved without the efforts of young volunteers. According to Jin Siyi, a volunteer representative from the Chinese Youth Volunteers Association, the actions of Chinese youth volunteers play a significant role in advancing the United Nations sustainable development goals, especially in reducing unemployment and poverty, assisting in providing quality education, disaster relief, as well as cultural dissemination. "During major international events such as the Beijing Winter Olympics, Hangzhou Asian Games, and the Shanghai World Expo, millions of young volunteers not only ensured the smooth running of these events but also actively promoted Chinese culture, creating the most beautiful 'business card' of China with their youthful enthusiasm."

2 Building a community with a shared future for mankind, Chinese youth demonstrate their sense of responsibility and youthful vigor  

"As China opens its doors wider to the outside world, the country's young people today are building a greater understanding of international exchanges and cooperation. " The white paper "Youth of China in the New Era" points out that Chinese youth are becoming more open and confident, demonstrating their youthful responsibility in building a community with a shared future for humanity. 

As one of the main founding nations of the United Nations and a permanent member of the Security Council, China holds a pivotal position on the most globally- important multilateral stage. Today, as China's comprehensive national strength and international influence continue to grow, an increasing number of Chinese youth are active on the UN stage. Chen Tan, a graduate student from Tsinghua University, is one of them.

The era's theme of peace and development has endowed contemporary youth with a new historical mission. "In China, 'sustainable development' has become a buzzword among young people." At the Round Table, Chen Tan shared his experiences related to sustainable development. In 2022, he was selected as a volunteer for the inaugural World Youth Development Forum. In 2023, he interned at the Office of the United Nations Youth Envoy, and after returning to China, he joined relevant international organizations, helping young people develop awareness of sustainable development and entrepreneurial skills through training programs.  

"I sincerely hope that young people from all over the world, like me, can embark on this journey with the United Nations, moving together towards a more sustainable, fairer, and more prosperous future." said Chen Tan.

Zhang Yu, a senior project manager at China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd., is also a supporter in promoting sustainable development among the youth. He has dedicated nine years to the countries involved in the "Belt and Road Initiative", traveling between nations in Africa and Latin America. In 2019, China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd. undertook the construction of the Metro Line 1 project in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, the city's first rail transit project that was expected to generate over 27,000 jobs in the next five years, significantly boosting local youth development. After joining the All-China Youth Federation's "B&R Youth Development Programme" in 2022, fostering people-to-people bonds among the youth became one of Zhang Yu's job priorities. For instance, he encouraged employees to participate in half marathons, organized micro-film festivals, and arranged for Chinese and Colombian youth to cook their respective national cuisines together, enhancing cultural understanding and identification between the youth of both countries. 

"As a witness and participant of the 'B&R Youth Development Programme', I feel that everything is very worthwhile when I see the smiles on the faces of the young people." said Zhang Yu. He believes that providing an effective platform for youth participation is crucial for the exchanges and development of youth.

3 Encouraging youth participation to ensure that the voices of Chinese youth can be truly heard

"The youth enjoy extensive channels for political participation, genuine experiences of political engagement, and effective outcomes from their involvement. They can participate in national and social affairs through various means." said Lv Anqi, Project Officer from the Department of Rights and Interests of the All-China Youth Federation. She noted that Chinese youth have a positive attitude towards political participation. "They believe that 'the country needs us' and 'the voice of the youth can be heard'."

Take the "Model Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC)" project as an example, this activity, which is very popular among Chinese teenagers, aims to cultivate their ability to participate in politics. Every year, hundreds of thousands of young people take part in it. "Many outstanding model proposals are sent to government departments at all levels to provide references for scientific decision-making." For instance, the proposal "On Further Improving Health Check-ups for Primary and Secondary School Students" written by the Model CPPCC Club of Xi'an Gaoxin No.1 Middle School was brought to Two Sessions of 2024 by a CPPCC member and has now been officially filed.

China not only provides effective channels for youth political participation but also builds a broad platform for youth to engage in global governance. According to Wang Yi, the Executive Director of the Secretariat of World Youth Development Forum, China has successfully hosted two World Youth Development Forums over the past two years, with themes closely linked to the United Nations Agendas. The forums selected 100 Excellence Actions for Globle Youth Development from 43 countries across six continents and attracted more than 4,000 young people from over 140 countries and regions to participate in various agendas.  

"The World Youth Development Forum serves not only as a platform for listening to the voices of young people but also as a platform that empowers them to address global common issues and challenges through their own efforts," said Wang Yi. "Here, more voices from the youth can be heard, more actions from the youth can be seen, and more suggestions from the youth can be adopted."

4 Reflecting on a sustainable future in intergenerational dialogue

Listening to the action cases introduced by Chinese youth representatives from different fields, Guy Ryder nodded frequently with a focused expression. During the interactive session, university student representatives at the event asked Guy Ryder with a series of questions.  

"It's becoming easier to access information online. How will the United Nations use the internet to inspire youth potential and better utilize the wisdom of the youth to achieve the 2030 sustainable development goals?" "The complexity of global issues is increasing, and youth participation in global governance faces many challenges, with a traditional focus on social sciences and languages gradually shifting towards an emphasis on technology. What are your expectations for the youth who wish to engage in global governance in the future?" Technological developments and the changes they bring about are the most frequent topics discussed by young people.  

Guy Ryder believes that while technology can indeed provide people with more information, it also leads to issues of information overload and difficulty discerning truth from falsehood. Moreover, artificial intelligence poses significant risks, exacerbating the global digital divide. Therefore, the Summit of the Future will introduce norms on public information processing in the "The Pact for the Future" to ensure the authenticity of information and guard against fake news as well as hate speech. Furthermore, technological advancements make the world today ever-changing, constantly requiring the refreshment of skills and qualifications. Citing a recent study released by the International Monetary Fund, he said that artificial intelligence will impact 60% of jobs in developed economies and some emerging markets. "This means that the degrees you obtain in 2021 or 2022 won't last you a lifetime because these skills will become outdated and obsolete. So, we must commit to lifelong learning."

These words set the youth present thinking. "Mr. Guy Ryder, when you were young, what kind of experiences did you have? Could you offer some advice to today's youth?" The "soul-searching question" posed by Chen Tan, who had previously interned at the United Nations Development Programme, made the UN representatives laugh, bringing the atmosphere at the event to its peak.

"My advice is to do what you think is important. It may not necessarily make you rich or catapult you to success, but it will give you motivation, and with motivation, you can succeed. Because in the end, personal beliefs and values are what matter most. Just like the United Nations, it was founded on the basis of values such as peace, development, and human rights, and individual value can only be realized through transnational cooperation. If you agree with this, then the United Nations is a good place for you." Guy Ryder emphasized that as one of the organizers of the Summit of the Future, UN staff also need to master five new skills, including digital literacy, innovation, technical expertise, behavioral competencies, and strategic abilities, to address increasingly complex future challenges.

"The world today is experiencing a major transformation unseen in a century, with a difficult recovery of the world economy and an ever-widening development gap. In response to the challenges of the times, countries should strengthen unity and cooperation more than ever before, place development at the center of the international agenda, and firmly uphold the international system centered on the United Nations, maintaining and practicing true multilateralism." Xu Xiao pointed out that youth play an important role in implementing Global Development Initiatives and advancing the United Nations agendas. The All-China Youth Federation looks forward to further cooperation with the United Nations to jointly promote global and youth development.

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