UN, along with United States, celebrates Youth Day
By Dan Margolis 

UNITED NATIONS – Three West Branch, Iowa middle school students got a chance to stand in the world spotlight, presenting their work on the environmental dangers of lead.

The students were part of a panel sponsored by several UN agencies to celebrate International Youth Day. Featured were students and representatives from a number of schools, member states’ missions to the UN, NGOs, and UN agencies.

“Education is a good place to start,” said one of the students. “In January, we held an environmental summit. Five state legislators, several community leaders and the general public attended. We also presented it to the WB city council, police department, Lion’s Club and American Legion.”
The students, from West Branch Middle School, were winners of the national “We Can Change the World” challenge. The three students, aged 12 to 13, working with teachers, successfully convinced people in Iowa to take action against lead in tires, which, when discarded improperly, can cause environmental troubles. They are now setting their sites on “all the tire service centers in the world.” 

While noting the toll that the world recession and environmental degradation has taken, particularly on young people, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon used this year’s celebrations, themed “Sustainability: Our Challenge, Our Future,” to celebrate the key role that young people have played worldwide in the fight for sustainable development. 

Ban noted that, in 2007, young people represented 25 percent of the world’s workforce, but comprised 40 percent of the unemployed. As for climate change, he warned that it threatened a “tremendous upheaval,” placing an “unjust ecological debt” on the younger generation. 

“More than a billion and a half people are between the ages of 10 and 25, the largest-ever youth generation,” said UN Population Fund Executive Director Thoraya Obaid. “They are approaching adulthood in a world their elders could not have imagined. The world has been hit by the food, financial and climate crises and many young people are eager to help steer our world into greater balance.” 

Later this year, in Copenhagen, the world’s governments will meet for the last time before the Kyoto Protocol runs out in 2012. It is hoped that this conference will result in a treaty to replace Kyoto, but there have already been numerous disagreements, mainly between the U.S., Europe and the developing world. 

Ban said that he hopes young people, who often “lead by example,” can help to “seal the deal at Copenhagen later this year.” 

“We deserve a voice in the global community,” said a representative of Plan International, a global organization working in more than 70 countries working for children’s rights. 

Patrick Ventrell, representing the U.S., told the audience that sustainable development “is something you can rest assured the Obama administration is committed to” and that “These are all topics that, in the past may not have been at the top of the U.S. agenda, they certainly are under this administration.” 

“The U.S. is re-engaging at the United Nations,” Ventrell added. “For too long, U.S. presence at the UN has been neglected, and now we have an administration that believes the UN is important.”