Ms. Leyla Aliyeva, Head of “IDEA” Public Union, Mr. Mukhtar Babayev, Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources, distinguished guests, and especially dear young participants
I am delighted to address you today on behalf of the United Nations System in Azerbaijan on the critical issue of the environment within the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and, in particular, the role of young people in that agenda.
We cannot afford to overlook the contribution that young people make to global and national development – because today, we are witnessing the largest youth population ever in the world. Globally, there are about 1.8 billion young people aged between 10 and 24 years old, and here in Azerbaijan, young people aged 14-29 make up almost one-third of the population.
Each one of those young people represents opportunity .. potential … a national asset without which economic and social growth cannot be sustained. But like any asset, the value that young people represents to a nation requires proper investment if it is to deliver the greatest possible dividend.
Investment in education, investment in decent work, investment in young people’s health and well-being and investment in their skills and talents with which they can go on to make a full contribution to the communities in which they live and grow up.
The United Nations System recognizes the key role that youth play in tackling climate change and works closely with youth-led and youth-focussed organizations around the world, including in Azerbaijan.
We believe that the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by 193 world leaders at the UN Summit three years ago, creates a framework in which we can, and must, engage youth and place them at the centre of our global efforts to achieve these goals, including in the field of environmental protection.
Today’s event coincides with the World Environment Day, a moment at which we encourage worldwide awareness and action for the protection of the environment, on issues from climate change to pollution, land and biodiversity protection and sustainable consumption.
Each year, the Day adopts a new theme, urging governments, corporations, civil society, youth, communities and influencers to advocate environmental causes around the globe.
This year’s theme is “Beat Plastic Pollution”, focusing on one of the great environmental challenges of our time. The theme invites us all to consider how we can make changes in our daily lives to reduce the heavy burden of plastic pollution on our communities, on our wildlife, and on our health. While plastic has many valuable uses, the world has become over-reliant on single-use or disposable plastic – with severe environmental consequences.
Ladies and gentlemen, nearly one third of the plastic packaging we use escapes collection systems, ending up clogging our city streets and polluting our natural environment. Every year, up to 13 million tons of plastic leak into our oceans, where it smothers coral reefs and threatens vulnerable marine wildlife – I am sure many of you saw the story last week of the pilot whale that died in Thailand after swallowing 80 plastic bags. The plastic that ends up in the oceans can circle the Earth four times in a single year, and it can persist for up to 1,000 years before it fully disintegrates.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Each one of us can take action, as individuals, to start reducing the threat of plastic pollution – for example, this Saturday, 9 June, “IDEA” Public Union, the UN family and “Tamiz Shahar” Joint Stock Company are organizing a clean-up campaign on one of Baku’s beaches. In addition to inviting all of you to join the clean-up, I would also urge you to think how you can reduce your own consumption of plastics – whether that is single-use plastic cutlery, plastic shopping bags or soft drink cups and straws. Sometimes the solution is, literally, in our own hands.
But protection of the environment also requires coordinated government action as well as conscious and informed efforts by individuals. Therefore, it is essential to systematically strengthen both formal and informal education on climate change, as well as promoting sustainable production and consumption patterns.
And we need more partnerships developed between governments, intergovernmental, non-governmental and youth organizations on initiatives that unleash the energy and determination of young people to build a better world for themselves and their children – through supporting community engagement, individual and collective action, and encouraging innovation.
At the same time, we can address both environmental concerns and the importance of sustained employment for young people by investing in the green economy – creating opportunities for young people to work in areas such as waste management, recycling, renewable energy, or the production of environment-friendly products through organic agriculture – these types of jobs not only benefit environmental protection through reduced energy consumption, lower pollution levels and strengthened ecosystems, but also represent meaningful employment for the country’s youth.
Today I pledge the full support of the United Nations in Azerbaijan in working with the government, civil society and young people to promote green initiatives and action to protect this country’s environment. I hope everyone here today will make the same pledge, and together – with young people at the heart of our shared commitment – we will invest in these two spectacular assets … the environment and the young people who live in it.