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Rosalind Skillen

Young people must have a bigger say in shaping global policy

Rosalind Skillen


Youth 7 Summit a crucial forum, but is G7 really listening to us?

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Protesters gathered in Falmouth for a climate change event organised by Cornwall Climate Youth Alliance on the first day of last year's G7 Summit in nearby Carbis Bay. (Photo by Hugh Hastings/Getty Images)

Protesters gathered in Falmouth for a climate change event organised by Cornwall Climate Youth Alliance on the first day of last year's G7 Summit in nearby Carbis Bay. (Photo by Hugh Hastings/Getty Images)

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met with Y7 delegates and took questions

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met with Y7 delegates and took questions

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Protesters gathered in Falmouth for a climate change event organised by Cornwall Climate Youth Alliance on the first day of last year's G7 Summit in nearby Carbis Bay. (Photo by Hugh Hastings/Getty Images)

The Youth 7 Summit, known as the Y7, was convened last week. The Y7 is the official youth engagement group to G7, bringing together youth delegates from G7 member states, the EU and selected partner countries. This year Berlin hosted the Y7 Summit as part of Germany’s 2022 G7 presidency.

I attended as part of the EU delegation. In the lead-up I met online with other youth delegates to draft policy proposals about a range of topics, including sustainability, economy, democracy and global health.

The summit involved discussing and negotiating these recommendations, which were drafted into a final communiqué.

At the end of the week the communiqué was presented to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who also took questions from delegates.

Throughout the week discussions were not only focused on recommendations to be included in the communiqué like biodiversity recovery and food security. Valid questions were also raised regarding the nature of the Y7. Does Y7 include youth voice in a meaningful way? Is Y7 simply a reconstruction of the G7? Does Y7 effectively challenge G7 structures?

Firstly, it is important to note that it is not a requirement for the host country to engage with young people during its presidency.

The G7 could very easily go ahead without any youth contribution or consultation. The Y7 structure has only been around since mid-2000s, and is one of many civil society structures providing input into the G7.

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This year the Y7 communiqué will sit alongside multiple input papers from other civil society groups, including Business 7, Labour 7, Women’s 7, Science 7 and Think 7.

These engagement groups have a unique role — to point towards what they think is missing from presidential programme, and to push the G7 to go one step further.

Each of these groups receive different levels of funding, they change according to each G7 presidency, and it is up to the host country to decide whether each group is accepted as a dialogue process group at all.

For example, Japan, who will host the G7 in 2023, is yet to recognise the Y7 as an integral dialogue process, and the Y7 organising group has not received any funding for next year’s summit.

The effectiveness of youth participation at the G7 therefore largely depends on funding, and whether the host country can afford this kind of structure during their presidential year.

Another factor dependent on the host country is guest participation. This, again, is different for every presidency, and depends on each host country’s strategic partnerships and goals.

Where the G7 is often criticised for its exclusivity, because seven wealthy nations effectively make decisions for lower-income economies, over the years the Y7 has sought to further integrate voices from the Global South.

To take this year as an example, India, Indonesia, Senegal and South Africa will partake in the G7, while at the Y7, youth delegates from Senegal, South Africa, Indonesia and Ukraine were invited to participate.

The Y7 is therefore not bound to the reality of what the G7 is doing, and is entirely independent in the creation of communiqué and its handover. This offers youth delegates the flexibility and freedom to draft more bold and ambitious policy recommendations, enabling them to push G7 leaders beyond the limitations of what they think is possible.

However, this kind of youth participation will always be limited in terms of how much change it can create for as long as it sits in a vacuum.

The Y7 is effectively a summit where young people discuss policy with other young people. Of course, the summit includes workshops delivered by ministers, high-level exchanges with policy-makers, and panel discussions with G7 leaders.

However, there is arguably still limited interaction between negotiators and young people. The Y7 takes place a month in advance of the G7 — and while the gap allows time for young people to campaign, advocate and communicate their message, the fact that the two summits happen in isolation reduces the opportunity for exchange and dialogue.

This is not to discount or downplay the tremendous opportunities for learning and development which being part of a youth delegation provides. Enabling young people across the world to connect, providing them with understanding of policy-making and negotiating, and facilitating their political discussions is truly fantastic. However, this serves primarily an enabling function, not a groundbreaking one. Is it really tearing up the rule book?

To ensure that young people not only learn about, but also help shape global policy, we need to see wider participation of youth in policy-making processes.

The success of the Y7 therefore depends on the level of interaction and cooperation between youth and ministries. For example, to maximise impact, youth voices could be integrated in the G7 process on a ministerial-level. Or G7 leaders could even provide feedback on Y7 policy recommendations.

Steps need to be taken to open conversation between youth and policy-makers throughout the entire process of the G7.

This means before, after, but most importantly during, the negotiations. This means that young people are involved in more than consultation and recommendation — they become involved in processes of design, delivery and implementation.

The Y7 exists to challenge ‘business-as-usual’ paradigms, and it would be unfair to argue that it is nothing more than a replication or imitation of the G7. For instance, by simply integrating youth voice, the Y7 already challenges the structures of the G7.

However, a critical question remains. Is the Y7 a ‘nice to have’, and will the communiqué push G7 leaders to change the agenda? This question is no longer in our hands.

The Y7 summit is over, the communiqué has been written and it is now up to the heads of state and governments to take our policy demands into account.

We’ll find out if they do next month in Elmau.


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