Youth innovation for human and planetary health

The recent pandemic has affected all of us, including students and young people of the world.
Youth innovation for human and planetary health


Ranjan K Baruah

(With direct inputs from UN publications and feedback may be sent to

The recent pandemic has affected all of us, including students and young people of the world. The economic impact of COVID-19 is set to make the job market more challenging for youth shortly. The International Labour Organization's reports are challenging for all young people around the world. Recent estimates suggest that 600 million jobs would have to be created over the next 15 years to meet youth employment needs. And the proportion of young people not in employment, education or training (the youth NEET rate) has remained stubbornly high over the past 15 years and now stands at 30% for young women and 13% for young men worldwide.

There is no doubt that youth can be a positive force for development when provided with the knowledge and opportunities they need to thrive. Today, there are 1.2 billion young people aged 15 to 24 years, accounting for 16 per cent of the global population. By 2030—the target date for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that make up the 2030 Agenda—the number of youth is projected to have grown by 7 per cent, to nearly 1.3 billion.

When we talk of young people or youth we need the definition and interestingly there is no universally agreed international definition of the youth age group. For statistical purposes, however, the United Nations—without prejudice to any other definitions made by the Member States—defines 'youth' as those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years. On the other hand, according to the National Youth Policy of India youth is defined as young people in the age group of 15-29 years, which constitutes 27.5 per cent of the population according to Census-2011, that is about 33 crore persons. The definition may vary in other countries as there is no universally accepted definition.

The United Nations youth agenda is guided by the World Programme of Action for Youth. The UN has long recognized that the imagination, ideals and energy of young people are vital for the continuing development of the societies in which they live. Member States of the United Nations acknowledged this in 1965 when they endorsed the Declaration on the Promotion among Youth of the Ideals of Peace, Mutual Respect and Understanding between Peoples. Two decades later, the United Nations General Assembly observed 1985 as the International Youth Year: Participation, Development and Peace. Celebration of the Year drew international attention to the important role that young people play in the world, and, in particular, to their potential contribution to development.

In 1995, on the tenth anniversary of the International Youth Year, the United Nations strengthened its commitment to young people. It adopted an international strategy: the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and beyond, which directed the international community's attention and channelled its response to the challenges that would be faced by youth in the next millennium. To coincide with the 25th anniversary of the first International Youth Year, the United Nations General Assembly, in December 2009, adopted resolution 64/134 proclaiming the year commencing 12 August 2010 as the International Year of Youth.

One of the events which are dedicated to all young people and to raise a voice for them is the celebration of International Youth Day (IYD). In December 1999, in its resolution 54/120, the UN's General Assembly endorsed the recommendation made by the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth (Lisbon, 8-12 August 1998) that 12th August be declared as International Youth Day. The theme of IYD 2021, "Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health", highlights the success of such a global effort that will not be achieved without the meaningful participation of young people.

A central principle of the 2030 Agenda is the assurance that "no one will be left behind." The Sustainable Development Goals are meant for all nations, all peoples of all ages and all societies. The universal nature of the 2030 Agenda entails that youth should be considered across all Goals and targets. Youth are specifically mentioned in four areas: youth employment, adolescent girls, education and sports for peace. Moreover, young people are recognized as agents of change, entrusted with fulfilling their potential and ensuring a world fit for future generations.

We have seen youth innovations around the world at the time of pandemics too. Young people are extending support to others by becoming volunteers. During the lockdown, many young people took up the challenge to help elderly persons and others who need help. In India, during the time of vaccination, we have seen that many college students and others have volunteered themselves to make the vaccination process easy. Youth must be provided with spaces and opportunities so that they can utilize their full energy for positive social transformation. IYD is an opportunity for all of us but there should not be any confusion with 12th January which is observed as National Youth Day in India.

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