The 2024 edition of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Youth Forum, themed ‘Youth at the Core of a Just Energy Transition: Skills, Empowerment and Innovation’, aimed to not only foster discussions but also equip young participants with the tools and knowledge necessary to shape a more sustainable and inclusive energy future.

Through a series of engaging activities that include plenaries, workshops and bilateral engagements, selected young delegates from diverse backgrounds converged to delve into the latest innovations and exchange insights on renewable energy.

The momentum for a renewables-based energy transition, aligned with the ambitions of the Paris Agreement, received a significant boost under the UAE Consensus to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030. This consensus underscores the need for an ‘all hands-on-deck’ effort, especially since progress so far is off track.

With half of the global population under the age of 30, young people are key stakeholders of a sustainable energy future. They also embody a dynamic demographic that – often overlooked – can contribute significantly to accelerate the global energy transition. IRENA has been at the forefront of harnessing their potential, engaging youth across all facets of its strategic frameworks and activities.

During the session at IRENA’s 14th Pre-Assembly Day on 16 April, participants are invited to explore and promote actions in three main areas: a) Skills for a Just Energy Transition; b) Empowering Youth Voices in Energy Agendas; c) Fostering Youth-Led Innovation in Sustainability.

Gauri Singh, IRENA Deputy Director-General said during the intervention, “I would really encourage each of you here to work in the field, to work with communities, to understand what it takes to make change happen, and to build on the passion you have for climate action.”

Wudindolo Fantina, IRENA Youth Delegate from Cameroon echoed this message, saying, “We need to look into ways to understand the context of local communities and actively make community members agents of change in the energy transition.”

Organised in collaboration with the IRENA Global Council on Youth for SDG 7 from 14 to 18 April, the IRENA Youth Forum offers a platform for cross-generational dialogue between youth leaders, high-level officials, and various stakeholders. This dialogue is crucial for an inclusive energy transition, as it ensures that the insights of the younger generation are not only heard but are used to guide the direction of energy policies and innovations.

Francesco Corvaro, Special Envoy for Climate, Italy, said, “I have witnessed innovations from the youth around the world, breaking barriers to fight climate change. Please continue your work, you are the generation that will lead the future.”

Towards the end of the Forum, participants went into breakout session where they discussed different topics of their choices in different groups: 1) Gaps and Opportunities for Energy Workforce Development; and 2) Scaling-up Youth-led Climate and Energy Initiatives.

One group emphasised the interdisciplinary skills to succeed in the renewables space. Artificial intelligence and big data were brought up as key areas that will have a large impact, with the group agreeing that using it as a tool to find innovative solutions would be crucial to scale up renewables. There is a need to embrace technology and think creatively to find the solutions that accelerate a just, inclusive energy transition.

Talking about gaps in the workforce, another group mentioned the difference between what the youth learn in the classrooms and the reality of the skills needed in the workforce. There is a need to match the theory in the formal education with the practice going on in the ground. The youth urged for more practical knowledge that would prepare them for the jobs needed to support sustainable development.

Indeed, the youth of today is the generation that will take over the management of the planet. Empowering them with knowledge and leadership skills is an investment for a climate-safe future for all.