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Lessons From Youth-Focused ‘Future Action Festival’ Ahead of UN Summit of the Future


By Joyce Chimbi

NAIROBI (IPS) – The world has crossed the halfway point to the end of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) era amid multiple, unprecedented, and significantly destructive global shocks. Two of the most pressing global challenges are the climate crisis and the threat of nuclear armament. Of serious concern is a severe lack of youth engagement on issues of critical global importance.|JAPANESEITALIAN SWEDISH

Future Action Festival Poster. Photo: Yukie Asagiri, INPS Japan.
Future Action Festival Poster. Photo: Yukie Asagiri, INPS Japan.

Speaking to IPS during the 2024 UN Civil Society Conference, the outcome of which will inform high-level discussions when the UN hosts hundreds of world leaders, policymakers, experts, and advocates in September at the Summit of the Future in New York, Tadashi Nagai stressed the importance of coalition and movement building and youth engagement to escalate progress towards attainment of the SDGs. 

“In March 2024, the Future Action Festival took place in Tokyo, attended by approximately 66,000 people and over half a million viewers via live streaming. The event was a collaborative effort by youth and citizen groups to foster a deeper understanding and proactive stance among young people on nuclear disarmament and climate change solutions as two issues of global concern,” said Nagai, a representative of the Soka Gakkai International organization and the organizing committee of the Future Action Festival at the Nairobi conference.

The organizing committee comprised representatives from six organizations, including GeNuine, Greenpeace Japan, Japan Youth Council, Kakuwaka Hiroshima, Youth for TPNW, and Soka Gakkai International (SGI) Youth. Nagai said the high impact committee is reflective of a tangible, impactful coalition and movement building towards resolving issues of global, national, and local concern in the two major existential threats today—nuclear weapons and the climate crisis.

Nagai spoke of the inalienable link between youth engagement and the delivery of the promise of a peaceful world—a requisite for the attainment of the SDGs and other related global and national commitments. In the lead-up to the Future Action Festival, a youth awareness survey was conducted across Japan from November 2023 to February 2024, targeting individuals ranging from their 10s to their 40s. The survey focused on thematic areas such as society, climate change, nuclear weapons, youth and social systems, and the United Nations.

Future Action Festival Filmed and edited by Katsuhiro Asagiri, Yukie Asagiri and Kevin Lin of INPS Japan Media.

The survey results were illuminating, providing insights into how the youth perceive these issues and their possible role in resolving them. On the realization of a world free from nuclear weapons for instance, survey results showed that 82 percent of the respondents said nuclear weapons are not needed. Based on a sample size of 119,925 respondents, nuclear abolition is a widely shared vision among young people in Japan.

“We come with lessons from Japan on how civil society organizations represented at the Nairobi conference can build impactful, informative, and life-transforming coalitions and movements to address the most existential threats facing humanity today. This particular conference is unique, historic, and highly critical as it comes ahead of the UN Summit of the Future. The Future Action Festival was an opportunity to collect the voices of young people on issues of critical importance to the global community, in the same way that the outcome of the Nairobi conference will inform the UN Summit later on in September,” Nagai said.

Through the festival, the committee was determined to contribute to UN initiatives and endorse the newly-established UN Youth Office. Additionally, it aims to create momentum to strengthen international cooperation and solidarity toward a peaceful and sustainable future.

With this in mind, a joint declaration from the Future Action Festival was submitted to the UN to inform, influence, and shape high-level discussions at the Summit towards the production of three international frameworks: the Pact for the Future (available as a zero draft), the Global Digital Compact, and the Declaration on Future Generations. Nagai said that the Pact for the Future must be ambitious, inclusive, and innovative.

Tshilisi Marwala, President of the UN University and UN Under-Secretary-General (Center) who endorsed the joint statement from the organizing committee, acknowledged the critical importance of young voices in shaping the Summit’s agenda and urged them to “be a beacon of hope and a driving force for change.Photo: Yukie Asagiri, INPS Japan.
Tshilisi Marwala, President of the UN University and UN Under-Secretary-General (Center) who endorsed the joint statement from the organizing committee, acknowledged the critical importance of young voices in shaping the Summit’s agenda and urged them to “be a beacon of hope and a driving force for change.Photo: Yukie Asagiri, INPS Japan.

Under the theme, Summit of the Future: Multilateral Solutions for a Better Tomorrow, the summit aims to forge a new global consensus on what a collective future should look like and what can be done today to secure it. Enhancing cooperation on critical challenges and addressing gaps in global governance, reaffirming existing commitments, including to the SDGs, towards a reinvigorated multilateral system better placed to positively impact lives. The Summit of the Future will create conditions to help fast-track implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development be more readily attained.

Affirming the critical role of young people in sustainable development, the position of world leaders in the 2030 Agenda is that SDGs would only be attained if they were of the people, by the people, and for the people. The 2030 Agenda invites citizen engagement, especially from young people, to “channel their infinite capacities for activism into the creation of a better world,” Nagai said.

Hence the link between the civil society conference, the summit, and other events such as the Future Action Festival—all geared towards effectively addressing issues of global concern such as climate change, war, and worsening inequalities. Every proposal offered by the UN Secretary-General for consideration at the UN Summit of the Future will have demonstrable impacts on the achievement of the SDGs.

2024 UN Civil Society Conference. Photo: UN News
2024 UN Civil Society Conference. Photo: UN News

Ultimately, the Nairobi conference was a process of renewal of trust and solidarity at all levels—between peoples, countries, and generations. Making a case for a fundamental rethink of political, economic, and social systems so that they deliver more fairly and effectively for everyone.

At the closing of the conference, Mithika Mwenda, of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, emphasized the need for “boldness and honest conversations” to achieve the radical transformations needed to ensure sustainable development for all, poverty alleviation, and ultimately, an action-oriented Pact for the Future (one of the expected outcomes of the Summit).

Civil society groups and organizations also recommended a corresponding renewal of the multilateral system, with the Summit of the Future as a defining moment to agree on the most critical improvements necessary to deliver a future defined by equality, fairness, and shared prosperity.

Secretary-General António Guterres and Kenyan President William Ruto praised the efforts of civil society and underscored their “indispensable contributions.”

In his address, Guterres said time and again that he had witnessed the enormous impact of civil society in every corner of the world; easing suffering, pushing for peace and justice, standing for truth, and advancing gender equality and sustainable development, with many working at great personal risk.

Antonio Gutierrez, Director General of UN/ Public Domain
Antonio Gutierrez, Director General of UN/ Public Domain

Regarding current conflicts, including Gaza, Sudan, and ongoing crises in the Sahel, Great Lakes, and Horn of Africa regions, he said that the UN would not give up on the “push for peace, justice, and human rights.

He recognized that civil society was crucial to addressing many issues in the world, including closing digital divides and revitalizing the collective approach to peace and security.

“We need to be informed by your frontline know-how; We need your can-do attitude to overcome obstacles and find innovative solutions,” said Guterres. “We need you to use your networks, knowledge, and contacts to implement solutions and to persuade governments to act.”

Note: This article is brought to you by IPS Noram in collaboration with INPS Japan and Soka Gakkai International in consultative status with ECOSOC.

INPS Japan/ IPS UN Bureau

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