Youth Engagement on the Road to UN 2023

As climate change intensifies and water issues become more critical, the sense of emergency can sometimes seem all-pervasive. Many in our societies who care about sustainability, are weighed down by one crisis after another, and are in urgent need of reasons for optimism.

Perhaps it’s time we put our faith in the power of youth.

Young people have the passion and resolve necessary to propel systemic change in how water is valued and managed. Youth also bring original thinking that can be harnessed to help address some of our gravest water problems. Despite this, youth inclusion in water issues often remains superficial, and young people frequently encounter barriers when setting out in the sector. Engaging more systematically with youth at all levels of water governance and management can help us make better decisions and achieve more legitimate, inclusive and sustainable outcomes.

So, where should we start? The short answer is everywhere, but we could begin by putting youth at the heart of existing water governance processes and forums. This is one of the Kingdom of the Netherlands’ key priorities as it prepares for the UN 2023 Water Conference together with the Republic of Tajikistan. The conference is a defining moment for the water community that will set the agenda on water for years to come; we cannot afford to fail. Seizing the moment means ensuring the conference and its legacy are cross-sectoral, action-oriented and inclusive – and that means engaging youth at all levels and at all stages.

When thinking about youth engagement it’s important we remember that young people are a global demographic, not a narrow interest group. Youth are as diverse as any other cross-section of society, and no single person or organization can claim to speak on behalf of an entire generation. This is why partnership and collaboration are essential.

In its consultations in the run up to the UN 2023 conference, the Kingdom of the Netherlands has made efforts to engage with as wide an array of youth actors as possible. One of the main considerations is how to incorporate both individual and institutional voices. A crucial role is played here by the United Nations International Federation of Youth for Water and Climate (UN1FY), part of the Water and Climate Coalition. UN1FY has been designated as the official youth partner to the UN 2023 Water Conference and is working to collect inputs from young people worldwide on the water issues that matter to them and their communities. Anyone can reach out to UN1FY to get involved in this process.

To their credit, young people are also getting organized at the institutional level. For example, the International Secretariat for Water (ISW) has established a new coordination body, the Global Youth Movement for Water, to help align messaging and commitments between youth groups.

“The movement aims to connect organizations active in the water and youth space to foster collaboration and increase outreach. Over 25 organizations are currently working together to mobilize youth from local to global level, and develop strong and common messages and targets for the UN Water Conference and beyond.”

Elysa Vaillancourt, ISW Project Manager.

Meanwhile, a growing number of non-youth organizations are using their own influence to take action on the issues young people face. A coalition led by IUCN, AquaFed, KWR Water Research Institute and Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, with support from the Kingdom of the Netherlands’ Valuing Water Initiative, has launched a new programme of work focused on breaking down obstacles like tokenism, fragmentation and technocratic barriers which prevent meaningful youth participation. For those who stand to benefit from an empowered younger generation – in other words, all of us – these are encouraging signs. But more work is still to be done.

This brings us to Stockholm. World Water Week is a key steppingstone event ahead of the UN 2023 Water Conference and one of the last opportunities for the global water community to take stock of progress before our watershed moment arrives. The organizations mentioned above, together with many other partners, will be jointly convening a session on 1 September at 09:00 CET entitled Youth Engagement: From Why to How.

The session will take place onsite but is also accessible online. It will announce a first set of youth-oriented commitments for inclusion in the Water Action Agenda that will be launched at the UN 2023 conference, and share examples of how youth engagement and empowerment activities can be implemented at a practical level. To achieve a more sustainable world, we must harness the power of youth. Join us in this effort.

The governments of the Netherlands and Tajikistan are convening and co-convening several sessions and events in support of preparations towards the UN 2023 Water Conference. A unique watershed moment for the world, the UN 2023 Water Conference is our chance to bring everyone together, commit to real and meaningful action, to ensure a water secure world for all, by all by 2030. This World Water Week, join us in uniting the world for water!

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