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Youth and the Climate Crisis – Exploring Attitudes and Opportunities

With many longer-term climate targets in place for 2050 and beyond, it is clear that the impacts and possible benefits of these targets will be witnessed mainly by today’s younger generations. Fortunately, there is a lot of evidence to show that these generations are engaging in the discussion surrounding climate change and Net Zero. Whether this is attendance at high profile climate events or actively engaging in discussions and research, such as a recent survey carried out by the Renewable Energy Institute, we can see that young people across the world are interested in these issues and want to be part of the solution. But what opportunities are there for young people if they want to take this further and build their careers in Green Jobs? And what barriers might be standing in their way of doing so?

Youth protest against climate change.

Attitudes towards Climate Change and Renewable Energy Careers

Despite the high-profile coverage of some individuals’ views, such as Greta Thunberg, the opinion of young people on the environment has not always had broad coverage in the media, often moved aside in favour of experts and politicians. However, there is plenty of evidence to show high levels of engagement within the younger generations.

Climate Change

Greta Thunberg speaking at Youth4Climate 2021
Greta Thunberg speaking at Youth4Climate 2021

In late September the Youth4Climate event brought together 400 people, aged 15-29 in Milan to discuss climate change and the actions needed to tackle it. [1]

This event was held in conjunction with COP26 to ensure that young people were given a platform to air their views and share their ideas ahead of the main event. Young people from all over the world attended the event as ambassadors for their countries and generations.

A recent survey, carried out by the Renewable Energy Institute, highlighted some fascinating insights into how these younger generations perceive Renewable Energy and Green Technology. For example, 67% of respondents 18-25, said they would consider a company’s sustainability plan before accepting a job with them. 78% of those who were employed also said the company they work for is not doing enough to reduce carbon emissions. 94% argued it was very important that their political party prioritises sustainability. Interestingly, this was about equal with the overall survey results (93%). The Renewable Energy Institute, an Independent Educational Body, works to promote knowledge-sharing and best practice in Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency with leading universities and the United Nations (UNEP). Independent research, as carried out in this survey, is key to the Institute’s mission.

The Institute’s findings have also been echoed by larger-scale surveys, including the UNDP’s ‘People’s Climate Vote.’ This showed that 65% of 18-35 years olds, and 69% of under 18s, considered climate change to be a global emergency. [2]

Green Careers

Youth jobs in Renewable Energy

A recent survey by Green Energy suggests that young British people are highly motivated to work in the sustainability and Renewable Energy sectors. 45% of their 1,000 respondents said that they wanted to follow a career in a sustainable sector. In comparison, only 6% said they were interested in working in the fossil fuels sector. In fact, this sector was the least popular of all the available options. [3]

Not only is it crucial for reaching climate targets that younger people begin careers in Renewable Energy and Green Technology, but these jobs also offer young people a stable career after a pandemic that has rendered many of the jobs, traditionally filled by younger people, unviable and unstable. However, with all of this in mind, how easy is it for younger people to begin their career in the sector?


Youth Opportunities in Renewable Energy Jobs

At first glance, it would seem that the landscape for young people to build their careers in this field has never been so promising.  With so many targets to be reached in the coming years, it is obvious that a large and skilled workforce will be needed to ensure we reach the goals that have been set out. In addition, many Educational Institutions offer viable ways in which young people can start their journey into this sector. While this may not be the case globally, a large number of universities across the UK and US offer a wide range of degrees and courses relating to Renewable Energy and Green Technology, both at undergraduate and masters level. The Renewable Energy Institute also offers a wide range of Accredited courses, including the Master in Renewable Energy Award. CPD certified, these courses are ideal for proving continuous professional development and learning to employers and giving you a head start when finding a job in the sector.

Sustainable Energy Youth Network Logo

There are also several initiatives in place to ensure that people have the chance to learn about climate change and voice their opinions from a young age. For example, The Sustainable Energy Youth Network (SEYN) aims to empower young people to take an active role in the energy transition by building young people’s capacity in developing small-scale RE energy projects. They run Energy Academies, master classes and tailored programmes as well as offering mentoring support to their alumni. [4]

Building working relationships with organisations such as this can be crucial in allowing individuals to make a career for themselves later on.


Green jobs for youth

Barriers to Renewable Energy Jobs

However, starting a career in Renewable Energy may not be as easy as it looks.

Firstly, a UN consultation highlighted that entry-level positions in these sectors are rare. When opportunities such as apprenticeships are made available they are paid at much less than the national living wage (UK).[5]

Secondly, for young people that want to retrain or change careers it is also difficult to begin the process. Those asked in the Renewable Energy Institute’s survey highlighted that lack of support from employers, lack of money and lack of spare time all stood in the way of them undertaking a course in Renewable Energy.

Lastly, the workforce of these sectors can lack diversity, with a majority of employees being male, and a majority being over 45 years of age. This can make it difficult for younger people to break into the field and potentially make it more intimidating for some to try. However, a Renewable Energy Institute survey has shown a significant increase in women engaging in the discussion on renewable energy within younger age groups. While just 25% of the whole survey’s respondents were female, 55% of the respondents aged 18-25 were women. It is worth noting that these results are taken from a relatively small sample and so should not be taken as irrefutable evidence. However, hopefully they are indicative of an increased engagement amongst younger women, which could lead towards a wider shift within the industry and improve its diversity.

Solutions

Alleviating the barriers for younger generations will involve a concerted effort to open doors and encourage young people to consider a career in Renewable Energy. Fortunately, many organisations are already working towards this.

The Renewable Energy Institute is working to alleviate barriers to study by offering online, on-demand Distance Learning courses which allow people to study at home and in their own time. Meaning that they can balance existing commitments while continuing their education and training. The full list of Accredited courses offered by the Institute can be found here.

UNEP Green jobs for youth

UNEP has launched the Initiative ‘Green Jobs for Youth’ which consists of a top-down effort via UNEP’s Youth and Education Alliance and relevant ministries, as well as a bottom-up effort via youth engagement and through pathways for connected implementation via enhancing education and employer connections. [6]

Sustainable Energy For All Youth Summit 2021

In addition, Sustainable Energy For All, launched a youth summit in early 2021, aiming to create a central role for young people in shaping our response to the climate emergency. Not only did it create a platform for younger people to be heard but also created opportunities for networking, education and careers. The organisation works directly to increase student placement in green jobs but also encourages green entrepreneurship.[7] From an early age it means school-age children will be made aware of the opportunities afforded by green jobs and allow them to access opportunities early that will benefit them later on.

While these are excellent initiatives and a great start to helping younger generations into Green Jobs, organisations alone will not be able to solve the problem entirely. Governments and politicians across the world will also need to play their part in starting initiatives to encourage young people into Renewable Energy careers and to help them in the door. Hopefully, COP26 will show that these efforts are being made globally.


Conclusions

Young people are clearly engaged in the topic of climate change, sustainability and renewable energy. Furthermore, they are crucial in helping the world to achieve the targets it needs to avert the emergency. Without their interest, ambition and skill it is unlikely that we will be successful. Therefore, it is extremely important that organisations and governments continue to advocate for younger generations to begin their careers in the sector and even just encourage them to advocate for climate issues in their spare time. We must continue to provide platforms for their voices to be heard and actively work to ensure they can take up their place in the Renewable Energy and Green Technology workforce.


[1] https://ukcop26.org/pre-cop/youth4climate-2021/

[2] https://www.undp.org/publications/peoples-climate-vote#modal-publication-download

[3] https://www.energylivenews.com/2020/08/24/half-of-young-brits-want-a-green-job/

[4] https://www.seynetwork.org/who-we-are

[5] https://www.undp.org/blog/four-ways-young-people-can-lead-energy-revolution

[6] https://www.unep.org/explore-topics/education-environment/what-we-do/green-jobs-youth

[7] https://www.seforall.org/publications/highlights-outcomes-youth-summit

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