Intergenerational dialogue aims to foster future-ready youth for a just transition

A trail of destruction was left by a tornado in Newtown in oThongathi in June this year. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo Independent Newspapers

A trail of destruction was left by a tornado in Newtown in oThongathi in June this year. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo Independent Newspapers

Published Jun 19, 2024


By Yasirah Madhi and Lupumlo Ngcukana

The devastating effects of climate change are evident everywhere in South Africa.

The most recent in an ongoing pattern of floods in KwaZulu-Natal that destroyed infrastructure and livelihoods and killed more than 440 people.

Despite this, an Afrobarometer survey indicated that less than half (43%) of South Africans say they have heard about climate change, while 51% have not heard of the issue.

The youth are particularly important in understanding and acting on climate change because climate change impacts will worsen into the future if its causes are not addressed.

Already, 80% of youth have been directly impacted by climate-related incidents, such as pollution, droughts, and floods.

Since the consequences of the decisions made today will be faced by the youth, it is paramount that they have a voice and a seat at the decision-making table concerning the just transition.

The Green Youth Indaba, held in Durban on June 13–14, illustrated how young people have not remained passive.

Many have chosen to rely more on creating ground movements than on political leadership.

There are growing movements in the South African landscape, with young people protesting at banks and on the shores of the Wild Coast to demand a cleaner future.

They are setting up their capacity-building activities through boot camps, position papers, workshops, and trainings to ensure they are future-ready.

During one particularly notable session at the Green Youth Indaba, an intergenerational dialogue brought together seasoned experts and young activists to share knowledge, strategies, and experiences, fostering a collaborative approach to tackling climate issues by discussing how to create future-ready youth for a just transition

During the intergenerational dialogue, participants highlighted that the transition to a low-carbon and sustainable society should be viewed as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

Young people argued that central to meaningful change is addressing the needs of the most marginalised in society, including the poor, youth, women, and the most affected communities.

This requires a multi-pronged approach to directly address climate change issues, considering the context and challenges of each region.

The dialogue urged policymakers and government officials to create a space for the youth to participate in the policy processes and support their climate change initiatives.

In all instances where decisions are made, the interests of young people should be represented and at the forefront. Solutions must look beyond surface value and seek to assist the community where everyone benefits to ensure a truly just transition. Young people emphasised the need to increase awareness and knowledge about the changing climate and to produce effective resources that empower individuals to create their own change.

However, a key challenge identified is the discrepancy between policy and implementation.

Many policy initiatives are contradictory due to a lack of consensus between various government departments. Youth face a triple burden of unemployment, poverty, and inequality, as well as dysfunctional municipalities, which are crucial for enabling ground-level climate action. The identified mismatch between policies and implementation further highlights the divisions that hinder a just transition.

It is essential to employ and equip young people with the skills needed for a just transition. This involves prioritising TVET colleges and addressing the barriers to skill acquisition.

Beyond traditional degree requirements, there should be advocacy for the importance of learning through training and establishing value to TVET college education. Innovation is also a key requirement, needed from young people, to enable a transition with unique and localised solutions.

Encouraging innovation involves creating spaces for young people to take risks and occasionally fail. The state and key societal actors need to support youth initiatives, be patient with innovation, and understand failure as part of the process.

Most importantly, believing in young people will further empower them to engage in climate action with a mindset to do more for the better of everyone.

The just transition should be perceived as an opportunity to innovate. However, for these innovations to have an impact, they have to go along with measures to address the features of the economy that maintain inequality and poverty and to ensure a sustainable environment.

A key step is ensuring the youth’s participation in political processes around the just transition in meaningful ways. Young people have a crucial role in advocating for themselves and future generations, and their participation in shaping a greener future is essential to a just transition.

Yasirah Madhi and Lupumlo Ngcukana are from the Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ). They write this piece in their capacity as members of the Climate Ambition to Accountability Project – a joint project of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Climate Action Network South Africa (SACAN) and the IEJ. The European Union and the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency co-fund the project. This opinion piece is the sole responsibility of the project team and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union and the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency.