What Goals for Young Londoners?

10 August 2018

By Dr Paul Toyne, commissioner on the London Sustainable Development Commission


There are currently 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world. This is the largest youth population ever. Here in in London, nearly one in five residents fall into this age group. 

Clearly, young Londoners are significant in terms of sheer numbers, and so the kinds of decisions that get made about their future really matter. Decisions about education and training; the quality and affordability of new housing; support to job creation, as well as how we manage our air quality; adapt to climate change; and improve and create green spaces. The list goes on.

Young Londoners are significant for many other reasons, too. Rather than simply being ‘beneficiaries’ of decisions made about them, young people are crucial partners and agents of change when it comes to shaping their own futures, and those of generations after them. This is well-recognised in the United Nations’ annual International Youth Day – this year held on 12 August – which celebrates the role of young women and men as essential partners in change. 

The role of young people as critical agents of change is also clearly spelt out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs – or Global Goals – are a universal action plan for “transforming our world”. The United Kingdom is one of the 193 countries that has signed up to them. The 17 SDGs aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all: both for today’s and future generations. Much of what the SDGs are trying to achieve is highly relevant to cities and their young residents. Meeting them will require action by everyone: governments, businesses and citizens, including and importantly young people. Indeed, Agenda 2030, the document that established the SDGs, recognises this clearly in paragraph 53:

The future of humanity and our planet lies in our hands. It lies also in the hands of today’s younger generation who will pass the torch to future generations.

As implementation and monitoring progress towards the SDGs are not legally binding for nations or cities, the success of the SDGs will, to a great degree, rely on citizens who will have to hold their leaders and governments to account and remind them of their commitments. As stated by Plan International, engaging young people to gather their views is essential because young people are critical thinkers, change-makers, innovators, communicators, and leaders.

In recognition of the importance of young people, the London Sustainable Development Commission is starting a project with young Londoners, which will identify their priorities and concerns, and how these relate to the SDGs. We want to understand what they feel might prevent them from achieving a better quality of life, and what they think could change this. We’ll then develop a vision for London informed by the SDGs and based on the views of young Londoners. The Mayor of London's Peer Outreach Workers will be helping us on the speak with young Londoners. The ultimate aim is to help ensure that those making decisions about the future of London will take the hopes and dreams of young Londoners into account. 

As a Londoner – I was born and continue to live here – I’m really excited about this work. I don’t believe we fully understand the expectations of young Londoners and how they relate to the ambitions of the SDGs, and can’t wait to find out what they think. When I went to school, the curriculum was less advanced on subjects like Fairtrade, climate change and globalisation, so I’m looking forward to seeing how well informed they are about sustainability issues, and as a result what they expect London to provide to enable them – and generations of Londoners that come after them – to achieve a good quality of life. I know what I’d want, but how will my views differ?  

We’d really welcome your input into this exciting new area of work. If you are a young Londoner or work with them and are interested in getting involved in this work, or hearing more about it, please get in touch

About the author

Paul Toyne
Dr Paul Toyne is a commissioner on the London Sustainable Development Commission. He is an independent strategic sustainability adviser. Paul has a diverse background of academic research in environment science, campaigning for WWF, running a corporate social responsibility consultancy and managing the environmental and sustainability affairs of large companies. This includes Balfour Beatty, WSP Group and Bovis Lend Lease UK. Paul has worked with governments in the UK, the EU and globally, as well as private sector and non-governmental groups, on the development of policy on issues of sustainable trade and the environment. Paul is a Fellow of the Institute of Environment and Management and the RSA, and chairs and participates in various forums that aim to improve the sustainability of the built environment.

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