As record warming tests climate goals, young people’s ‘green skills’ may help save the planet

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Young climate advocates will tell leaders at a UN summit next month that they are out of options: government and big business must work together on ambitious climate action that pushes the world faster towards sustainability and empowers youth with the ‘green skills’ that will secure our future.

International Youth Day is marked annually on 12 August and the 2023 edition spotlights green skills and the major role young people will play in driving the much-needed shift towards an environmentally sustainable and climate-friendly mindset.

These include technical knowledge and skills that enable the effective use of green technologies and processes in occupational settings, as well as transversal skills that draw on a range of knowledge, values, and attitudes to facilitate environmentally sustainable decisions in work and in life.

“From innovative sustainable technologies and renewable energy, to revolutions in transportation systems and industrial activity, young people must be equipped with skills and knowledge to shape a cleaner, greener, more climate resilient future,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his message on the Day.

To learn more about what skills will be crucial in creating our green future, UN News talked to Guterres’s young climate advisors. The seven members of his Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change hail from different backgrounds and have interests in diverse spheres, but they are united in their desire to make this world a better place.

UN News spoke with four of the advocates about the importance of enhancing green skills, and about what message each of them hoped to deliver to world leaders who will gather for the Climate Ambition Summit in New York in September.

Saoirse Exton from Ireland became a climate justice activist at the age of 13. Inspired by the example of her peers in Australia, she began to go out for climate protests and became founder of the Fridays for Future movement. Today, she also has keen interest in economics and advocates rethinking of the current global system and encourages to maintain hope.

Saoirse: I think it’s important to be wary and critical of the systems that we currently have in place. I’m really interested in economics and being aware of the issues that are ingrained in classical economic systems is very valuable. When we navigate legislative spaces, sometimes it’s easy to feel a bit hopeless. But the way to maintain hope is to realize that there are solutions to those things that feel like they have no solutions.

For example, economics, [is] a very big issue because there are a lot of people who are not interested to change our economic system. I think it is worth considering the negative aspects and the negative effects of classical economic systems, at least being critical of them. Maintaining a healthy critical attitude while also being fully aware that change is possible [is a good “green skill”]. So, it’s like optimism combined with criticism.

Beniamin Strzelecki from Poland is a climate action and energy transition advocate. He has coordinated a global network of youth-led energy organizations and has worked with intergovernmental entities, including the International Renewable Energy Agency, Sustainable Energy for All, and the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) to create opportunities for young people in the energy transition field.

Beniamin: I was aware of the catastrophic trajectory on which the world is heading in terms of growing greenhouse gas emissions, with 70 percent of those coming from the energy sector, including power, transportation. [These industries] are really the keys to addressing this climate crisis. I think that quantitative reasoning is incredibly important for this transition. We are faced with a lot of messaging, a lot of campaigns by organisations, companies and governments that are trying to tell us what they are doing to be more green and more sustainable.

But very few of those campaigns and pledges are backed with real action. I think that young people need to be able to see through the words and look at the numbers and question the meaning of these campaigns we keep hearing about. This is why the grasp of the numbers and quantitative reasoning are so important in the era where the risk of greenwashing is greater than ever.

Another Youth Adviser, Jevanic Henry of Saint Lucia, is a climate and development professional, previously serving as Climate Change Special Envoy for the Caribbean Youth Environment Network and was a UN Foundation’s Next Generation Fellow, shares the scientific approach to the climate challenge.

Jevanic: Green digital skills are going to be crucial in shaping a sustainable future for current and future generations. Our world is rapidly becoming more digitally skewed and as young people we must ensure we are in a position to bridge emerging gaps in education, employment, and development agendas, with the required digital skills to ensure a just transition which benefits people and planet. This will allow us to effectively embrace the dynamic global digital environment whilst utilizing the innovative thinking of young people towards fashioning a sustainable era which leaves no one behind.

The underlying concept of leaving no one behind – the central, transformative promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – and weighing a range of development opinions are close to the heart of Joice Mendez whose origins are in Colombia and Paraguay.

She is a migrant, a social entrepreneur, and climate advocate focused on the nexus of water, food and energy justice. She is also a cofounder of several local and regional youth organisations.

Joice: The green skill that I consider most important is ‘non-violent communication’. That means to learn to listen. We learn how to give speeches, how to retell this and that, but we don’t learn how to be active listeners, how to listen to the others, how to respect the space. If we are building a different world, we have to go about it in a very different way, in a really sustainable way. Non-violent communication is fundamental for creating sustainable projects. It’s needed to ensure learning between cultures, to support multiculturality and respect in all manners.

In September, all members of the Youth Advisory Group will come to UN Headquarters in New York to deliver their generation’s message to world leaders traditionally gathering for the General Assembly’s high-level week.

The advocates previewed some of their key appeals during the discussion with UN News.

Saoirse: It’s really important to recognise that there are elements of our current system and our current way of doing things that are not really fit for purpose. That means it’s important to examine ways states can better collaborate with one another. We see things like the loss and damage fund… But how can we actually ensure that that [fund would be] equitable? How can we ensure that that it isn’t just about adaptation, but also about mitigation, preventing the climate crisis and ensuring that countries that are more responsible for the climate crisis take on more responsibility to stop the effects of the climate crisis? The processes, practices and structures that people are adapting will [miss the mark] if we don’t try to actually stop the climate crisis.

Beniamin: The world is well off track to meet the climate goals and cut our emissions. [Emissions] are not going down. They’re not even flat. They continue to grow across sectors and across countries. So more urgent action is needed. I think we have clear paths charted by researchers, including the IPCC, who tell us very clearly, we need to triple the installed renewable energy capacity to 11 terawatts by 2030.

We need to stop any further exploration and extraction of fossil fuels, and we need to scale up our investment in energy transition to US$4 trillion per year by 2030. These are the three overarching themes that we need to look at – investment, stopping fossil fuel extraction and a rapid scale up of renewable energy power generation – to even think about meeting the climate goals of the Paris Agreement.

Jevanic: For the international community, the task is simple [because now] there’s no longer a multiple-choice question. The only option is to deliver ambitious climate action that covers mitigation, adaptation, finance and loss and damage. Failure to do so with a degree of alacrity will drive small island developing states (SIDS) and other climate vulnerable developing countries [towards] gradual extinction.

Many of our economies are now on life support due to the compounding impacts of climate change, and collective efforts are key in ensuring we stay alive and thrive. [The window of opportunity is] rapidly closing to truly turbocharge climate action driven by international cooperation. Advancing global peace efforts and reprioritising joint resources towards delivering climate justice can be a catalyst in this process.

Joice: I ask you to have more ambition, but also to recognize that as youth we need resources, we need financial support. It’s not enough to go to an event, take a picture and go back and to say, ‘I’m doing enough for the climate.’ We need to have money and support to develop community projects. We need to support communities at the forefront of the climate crisis – to have global change with local actions. So, I ask you to leverage intergenerational cooperation with tangible results.

SOURCE: UN NEWS CENTRE/PACNEWS