The general election is fast approaching; yet current registration levels among young people are shockingly low, with a recent poll suggesting that in the UK less than a third of 18-24 year olds are registered to vote.
To make politics inclusive and win the vote of Britain's youth, parties must be talking about the issues that matter to young people. As political parties rally their armies in the race to parliament, sustainable international development is being overlooked as a factor that could tip the scales by encouraging young people to vote.
A recent Eurobarometer report revealed that, as a demographic, people aged 15 to 24 within the EU are more active and concerned about global issues than any other age group. The report also showed that the same group is more likely to think it is important to help people in developing countries, more likely to think the EU should increase development aid beyond promised levels, and more optimistic about the impact that individual actions can have in helping developing countries. To engage disillusioned young voters, parties have to prove they are sympathetic to their global concerns.
The recently proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been drawn up by the UN to improve the lives of the poorest nations around the world over the next 15 years. With 17 goals and 169 targets, they have been met with a mixed reception. Critics have claimed the goals need simplifying and that they risk failure without clearer targets, others say the detail is fundamentally necessary to ensure their effectiveness. Crucially, young people are joining the debate. Why? Because when it comes to sustainable development, they are the force that matter and the drive that can make the difference.
The SDGs are the UN's projected textbook guide to alleviating poverty and bringing developing nations on to a level playing field with the rest of the world. However, world leaders have been criticised for loading the targets with too much jargon instead of numerical indicators. Further criticism has suggested certain goals may have a negative impact on other aims, while the methodology behind eradicating poverty has been deemed unrealistic given current economic systems in the world.
Ultimately, the success of the SDGs will depend on the work of millions of people and changing the attitudes of millions more with young people as the engine in this next global campaign to reduce poverty. Young people can help to deliver both sustainable development in developing countries and sustainable living at home. Volunteers, more likely to be young people, will be instrumental in supporting the SDGs while groups of young people in the UK already revel in the fashions of ethical, green living. Politicians should be canvassing on sustainability on both home and international fronts to win their support.
Young people are concerned about transnational issues because they have grown up in a globalised world. In addition, more people than ever before from these shores are experiencing life in developing countries through volunteer programmes, tourism and travel. Many know first-hand the effects of climate change on agriculture, or what it is like to fetch water every-day or live miles from the nearest healthcare centre. I'm one of these young people and last year became the 10,000th volunteer to take part in the government funded International Citizen Service programme (ICS) with sustainable development charity Raleigh International.
ICS gives young people experience of living and working in a developing country while making a tangible difference to some of the poorest communities in the world. Beyond that, the programme places emphasis on how participants should use what they have learned to influence friends, family and wider social circles when they return home. The sense of being a global citizen and belonging to a global community instils the kind of passion that politicians need to harness among young people on home turf.
There is a stark contrast between the issues facing developing countries and the often pedantic arguments carried out in parliament that drive young people away from politics. Reducing this divergence will not only win votes among young people, it will create a platform to kick-start the UK's commitment to the SDGs. Whatever the final targets are come September, one thing is certain: if you want young people to vote on 7 May, you're going to have to talk more about sustainable development.