Promoting Youth Participation and Sustainable Skills Development for a Just Transition

Promoting Youth Participation and Sustainable Skills Development for a Just Transition

by Lesego Mateme

“If you really think that the economy is more important than the economy, try holding your breath while you hold your money”. Although comical, Guy McPherson’s quote encapsulates the very reason why a just transition is critical not only for our health and livelihood, but the health and livelihood of our environment and economy. One of the key tools necessary to drive a just transition is environmental advocacy, especially from young people because they will be living in the future that is created today.

Courtney Morgan is a climate justice activist and feminist who understands the link between climate justice and social justice. Professionally, she is a campaigner for the African Climate Reality Project working on climate literacy and public finance. She has committed herself to building movements and campaigns at the local level which help build resilience to climate change, alleviate poverty and reduce inequality. Morgan spoke to Green Youth Connect and this is what she had to share:

The theme for this year’s Green Youth Indaba is: Promoting Youth Participation and Sustainable Skills Development for a Just Transition. In the context of climate change, what is a just transition, and what does it entail?

A just transition is essential for climate action. It is a term that comes from unions and describes our shift from a high carbon economy to a low carbon economy, while leaving nobody behind. This means that we cannot just replace a coal mine with a solar farm, this is not a just transition. We must center justice in the transition, which means social protection for communities who have been reliant on harmful industries, reskilling of workers who could be trapped in dying industries and the real, material upliftment of communities.

There are a few misconceptions regarding just transitioning, particularly among people who work in fields to be affected by the climate action required. What have you heard? Can you clear any of these?

As climate justice activists, we believe that the most severe effects of climate change are falling on the most vulnerable and those who did not contribute to the crisis and that this is inherently unjust. But more than that, and what people forget about the term climate justice is that is also says that the burden of mitigation (in this case transitioning) must not fall on the most vulnerable.

So, there is this myth that we are calling for a transition just to save the environment, but really we are calling for a just transition that centers justice and is about people as much as it is about the environment. There is also a myth that there will be a whole bunch of workers who will be left to fend for themselves. But a true just transition calls for reskilling for those who are able, and for social protection for others.

A new energy system will still need workers, and thus with adequate investments in reskilling and capacitating more people, this can be an opportunity to more. Hand in hand with a transition, we also call for Green Jobs, calling for meaningful involvement in the economy for more people. A just transition must always take into account what kind of burden is being placed on vulnerable communities.

 Effective climate change policies are at the center of a successful just transition. What climate change Bills are in the pipeline in South Africa?

 The Climate Change Bill is currently in the pipeline which was tabled in February 2022, and is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is a need for regulation to hold governments and emitters accountable. Secondly, there is a need to give a mandate and responsibilities to different government sectors so that we can take action.

At the moment activists are often sent from department to department, but this bill would clarify mandates. It would also allow us to call for more ambitious national determined contributions (NDCs) and climate action that can now be grounded in legal basis. There is also a need for a legal framework to support the management of climate finance.

The 3 main actions of the bill will be to regulate climate change mitigation (which is what a just transition contributes to); to manage climate change adaptation which is important in a country where many communities are extremely vulnerable to flooding and extreme weather events; and to outline responsibilities for national government departments, local governments and municipalities- and provides them with a mandate.

Young people are often under the belief that they cannot directly influence policy or the decisions policymakers make, however, the 1976 Soweto Uprising and 2016 #FeesMustFall movement have proven that young people are strong in isolation but even stronger as a collective.

Why is it important that young people participate in policy making especially as it pertains to climate change. How can they do this?

It is important because it is young people will bear the brunt of the climate impacts which are to come. Young people, especially in South Africa have been integral in the fight for justice, they were instrumental in the liberation movement. We must continue with this spirit of youth action. It is also important because young people have new and creative ways to communicate the crisis, to contribute to awareness and to take action, it is young people who must lead this fight. Climate change requires solutions, this is also where the creativity and innovation of young people can help us.

Finally, it must be understood that climate change is an intergenerational fight, we need all ages to unite and take action on climate, while young people should lead, we must also take a moment to learn from generations before us, tactics and strategies for movement building must be passed down and modified to fit the fight we have now. We must use our energy and hunger for justice as the youth, to call for change that improves the material lives of affected communities, women, young people and other vulnerable groups.

In terms of how to do this, there are many groups who host policy conversations, so the first thing is to get educated and educate others, young people need to understand what we need, and how to get there. Those with the privilege of access to information must host discussions and workshops to share knowledge and capacitate others. Then, we must participate. We, as the people make up our democracy, and we must reclaim it by participating in it.

This means attending meetings and taking part in public process, submitting comment on policies where possible. We must also form alliances and solidarity with other groups, those who can support our efforts, across causes. Finally, as young people we must never stop fighting for our right to be included and to be heard.