Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka
to the United Nations

Commonwealth Youth Forum
“Wellbeing & Economic Growth”
11th November 2013

Good morning!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is indeed a great pleasure to be able to participate at this workshop on Youth Engagement in Developing the Post-2015 Agenda at this historic Commonwealth Youth Conference in Hambantota.  The theme, “Inclusive Development” is so timely.  In a world that is interconnected in such an unprecedented manner, inclusivity becomes essential.  Yesterday, you had some glimpses of how Sri Lanka is facing up to the challenge of ensuring inclusivity.  I must also take this opportunity to congratulate Minister Dullas Alahapperuma and his team for the excellent arrangements made for the Forum.  This will no doubt provide a useful platform as Sri Lanka gets ready for the World Youth Conference in 2014.

Bridging Rio+20 outcomes with the post–2015 agenda, and fostering creative synergies between these processes is vital for the sustainability, not only of future development work, but also of the agenda itself.

You would agree that the increasingly large youth demographic in the developing world makes it impossible to discuss any follow-up to Rio+20 and the Post 2015 development Agenda without taking into account their needs, their aspirations and their challenges today. Youth account for 18% of the global population.  85% of them live in the developing world. 1.8 billion persons in the world can be categorized as youth. 26% of Sri Lankans fall into this category. It is too large proportion of the global population to be ignored or taken for granted and their needs and wishes can not be addressed tomorrow.

The youth of today are confronted by a complex world  and this complex world is confronted by the youth. For one thing, they need to find work for themselves, and this is not an easy task as it used to be. At the same time the youth of today will also have to make provision for a rapidly ageing population. The ageing population is a massive challenge to all our economies. Furthermore, women will be the dominant segment in the ageing population. In the past, it was the youth who entered the employment market, and who generated the wealth to support the aged. For reasons which have been explained in many ways, employment will not be a readily available option to all the youth of today.

As the number of youth grows, policy makers, national leaders and the global community are confronted with a significant challenge. We must therefore listen to the voices of the youth, at national, regional and international levels as we make policy, as we implement our plans. The active input of youth becomes essential in this area and for this, effective mechanisms must be put in place.  Sri Lanka has a definite goal of integrating youth participation and mainstreaming youth perspectives in the Post -2015 Development Agenda. Since we are focusing beyond 2015, Sri Lanka is committed to mainstreaming youth in every possible area of the Rio+20 development agenda. You will recall that Sri Lanka hosted a side-event in Rio on this very theme.

Sri Lanka has for many years strongly supported processes that mainstreamed youth perspectives and strengthened their participation in policy formulation and implementation.  We strongly supported the UN Secretary-General’s initiative to appoint an Envoy for Youth. Now we have a high profile UN official to give voice to youth perspectives. We are delighted with the performance of Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi, who is the Youth Envoy. Sri Lanka is also currently exploring the possibility of promoting a permanent forum for youth, with the support of several like-minded Member States of the United Nations. This will create an opportunity for the voices of youth to be mainstreamed in the international arena.

As it is, youth has not been highlighted as a stand-alone priority sector in the diverse multilateral processes on Sustainable Development. However, the reality is that, in order to achieve the goals in each and every thrust area, the support, participation and contribution of youth is critical. Their contribution in the areas of food, energy and water – the three inevitable priorities for the SDGs, will be critical. Not only is the production of these critical elements to life becoming central to our existence and they also need to be used sustainably. We also need to engage youth in discussions on sustainable production and consumption. This is today a primary concern in the developed world but increasingly will shift to the developing world. Unless these issues addressed robustly, our efforts to deal with carbon emissions and global warming and the consequences of global warming will be doomed to failure. Youth can be the messengers of better practices to the children, the next generation.

The creativity of youth and their innovative skills are vital for exploring new ideas and creating new approaches for the entire world for the future. Entrepreneurial youth in both developing and developed countries have actively contributed in the fields of green energy, ICT and media. Innovative ICT is largely the domain of the youth. Much of today ICT innovation comes from youth – not ageing men and women. Think of Google, Face Book and Twitter.

Sri Lanka, for its part, will continue to support upholding the interests of youth in the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals established under the Rio+20 outcome document and other multilateral platforms. The UN Open Working Group is in the process of developing the global sustainable development targets for the foreseeable future.  It becomes vital for youth to be centrally involved in this.

Sri Lanka has been successful in integrating youth into our National Policy making and implementation mechanisms, through our network of more than 10,000 village level youth led organizations and the Sri Lanka Youth Parliament. Youth voices get heard at all these levels.  They could create a thundering noise which will be difficult to ignore. Elected Youth Parliamentarians consult with policy makers and contribute policy inputs through the various Parliamentary Select Committees. They are consulted by policy makers at all levels. There are youth in the National Parliament. The preparation of future voters for leadership and democratic consultative policy-making processes is vital for the effective implementation of all development plans and their sustainability. I note with pleasure that the Ministry of Youth has been amalgamated with the skills development institutions of the country and this will make youth more employable in both the national and international job markets. Indeed, they are the bulk of our human resource base.
I recall that in the late 80s and early 90s youth were a significant force in international initiatives to address environmental issues. Thousands of young people at schools, in universities, and in the workplaces mobilised themselves to pressure governments to taking action. They were so successful in their efforts that many governments began to include youth delegates in their delegations.

These delegates played a very important role in fashioning government policies and the time.   Some of them later entered the political mainstream and began to influence government policy making from within. Similarly those who went into business and industry acquired sufficient influence within their organisations to fashion business and industry attitudes.  A similar approach on the part of today’s youth would seem essential in the face of the threats confronted by the world today.  It is their world that is under risk from conflicts, global warming, climate change, financial crises, food crises and energy crises.  We must return to a time when well informed and activist youths influenced government policy making, business attitudes and industry reactions.

Youth will play a critical role in Sri Lanka’s reconciliation efforts as we seek to heal the wounds of 27 years of conflict. We have to ensure that the pain of yesterday will not persist into tomorrow. The youth must take the lead in these efforts.  It was our youth that ended the conflict through their sacrifices in life and limb. It is also the youth that will take the primary role in ensuring sustainable reconciliation.

Thousands of island-wide green youth movements under the auspices of the Ministry of Environment are now playing a key role in environment conservation and public awareness campaigns. Our environment is precious. Once lost, it will be lost forever. Sri Lanka is a front runner in promoting ecotourism. For decades, young travelers came to Sri Lanka looking for tropical bliss, grand historical sites and religious inspiration. We must ensure, that the environment is preserved not only to attract tourists, but for our own wellbeing.

As a country which is on the way to achieving most of the MDG’s, Sri Lanka strongly supports the need to establish, regional and global mechanisms, that would integrate youth and youth-led organizations and networks as key partners in the formulation and implementation of the post-2015 development agenda. The UN regional offices would be an effective organizational tool in this. We look to the United Nations to be our proactive partner in this endeavor. We also believe that the time dedicated for achieving the MDGs, i.e. 15 years, is also appropriate for SDGs as well, taking into account the heavy youth engagement in the post-2015 development agenda.

Sri Lanka is grateful to all the UN Member States, who have welcomed the World Conference on Youth in 2014 in recent GA resolutions (“Policies and programmes involving youth” and Resolution 51/1 “Policies and programmes involving youth” of the Commission for Social Development). Another GA resolution this year will place a stamp of approval on Sri Lanka’s goals.

The 2014 World Conference on Youth in Sri Lanka will be a significant platform to further enhance and integrate youth participation in the development of the post 2015 development agenda. We believe that we need to invest in a youth centered preparatory process leading to the Conference, and most importantly, a commitment to a follow-up phase in partnership with young people in the implementation of the post-MDG development agenda. Our hope is that through constructive engagement with a wide group of stakeholders, the conference will have a concrete and results oriented outcome that would contribute to youth development and empowerment.

          I invite all of you to attend the World Conference on Youth in Sri Lanka next year and to enjoy our bounty. We also would like you to experience our model of regional development and post-conflict development, in a country that enjoys universal state funded educational and health care facilities.

Thank You.


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