Y20 Summit 2019- Negotiating policy solutions with young people from across the world

Rose-Anna Selhorst, Global Voices Y20 National Scholar

It was an honour to represent Australian youth at the Y20 Summit this year in Tokyo, Japan, as one of two Australian delegates. The Y20 Summit is one of several engagement groups of the G20 and is one of the only officially (and internationally) recognised ways for young people to make policy recommendations that are presented to leaders through the Y20 Communiqué document. Leaders of the G20 countries, which together represent around 86% of the world economy and two thirds of the global population, gather each year to discuss pressing global issues and agree to actions and priorities.

This year, we Y20 youth representatives were tasked with negotiating and agreeing to policy recommendation for three topics:

  1. Future of Work

  2. Business and Environment, and

  3. International Trade.

Representatives from each country had already submitted their proposed recommendations before arriving in Japan, which gave us all an idea of the different national priorities and what each delegation was hoping to achieve during the Y20 Summit discussions.

Before we dived into the policy negotiations, we gathered together for the first time on Sunday 26 May for the G20 Youth Dialogue event at Rikkyo University. We heard from dignitaries including H.E. Hiroshige Seko (Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry) and H.E. Koji Tomita (G20 Sherpa, Japan), and experienced a Wadaiko performance (Japanese drums) which energised us as we then separated into workshops. The workshops were an opportunity for the Y20 delegates to engage with high school and university students, in order to further develop one of our policy proposals that we would be advocating for in the Y20 discussions. I attended the workshop run by representatives from BRITA, a company with the vision of changing how people drink water sustainably. I was deeply impressed by the students I worked with on further developing Australia’s proposal for the Business and Environment discussion, which identified ways that G20 countries could reduce plastic production and consumption. The students had some unique ideas, for example that governments could partner with young people to be ambassadors for plastic reduction on social media and use hashtags to promote clean ups.

As we entered the week, we immersed ourselves into the policy debates and negotiations. A highlight for me was representing Australian youth in the Business and Environment discussion. We began with a presentation from Alona Kazantseva, a representative from the World Bank Group. Climate change was one of the main issues discussed by representatives in this session. We debated ideas for how to involve businesses in reducing carbon emissions and move towards a circular economy. The Saudi Arabian representative and I advocated strongly for the inclusion of the issue of avoidable single-use plastic. Research shows that nations are unable to handle the amount of plastic waste they have already generated, with around 79% of plastic ever produced now in landfill or in the broader environment. What is even more concerning is that the production of new plastic is set to skyrocket over the next 10 to 15 years. Reassuringly, avoidable single-use plastic was included as a broader recommendation around waste management in the final Y20 Communiqué. Even better, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe noted the issue of marine plastic litter in his remarks to the Y20 delegates when we presented him with the final policy recommendations!

Reflecting back on my experience at the Y20 Summit, I was deeply moved by how young people passionately discussed and debated significant policy issues we are all facing, but without political barriers. What stands out to me is the importance of humour. Whether it was late night karaoke or enjoying a Kyogen performance (traditional Japanese comic theatre), laughter brings us together. As young people, I think we are able to connect with each other in a way that other senior leaders can often find challenging. We also bring creativity and bold ideas to the most pressing and complex global challenges. Most importantly, we want to change the world.  

The biggest thing I note when I reflect back on the Y20 Summit is how we grappled with framing our ideas in a way that would ensure that political leaders would actually listen to what we have to say, and not dismiss our ideas as being too ambitious. It is encouraging to see leaders are increasingly recognising the importance and value of engaging young people in policy-making, but at the end of the day we are not the ones sitting in the driver’s seat. It is ultimately up to our leaders to make bold decisions and change the direction we are going in. We need to continue to explore how to make youth engagement meaningful and how to empower young voices when it comes to solving complex global challenges.