Youth Day and SA’s just transition: empowering the next generation for climate action

Nthabiseng Masinge is a Senior Communications and Stakeholder Relations Specialist in the Presidential Climate Commission. Photo: Supplied

Nthabiseng Masinge is a Senior Communications and Stakeholder Relations Specialist in the Presidential Climate Commission. Photo: Supplied

Published Jun 12, 2024


By Nthabiseng Masinge

Thirty years into its democracy, South Africa faces an urgent need to address climate change, with increasing detrimental impacts predicted as we move into the next decade.

The Presidential Climate Commission’s State of Climate Action Report highlights that South Africa is entering a more challenging phase, focusing not only on setting targets, but also on achieving them.

Youth Day on June 16 offers an opportune moment to reflect on how young people can contribute to this crucial effort. South Africa’s youth can play a pivotal role in driving a just and equitable transition to a low-emissions economy, ensuring that no one is left behind.

Empowering youth for a just transition

A just transition for young people means being at the forefront of change, using their energy, creativity, and technological savvy to drive climate action. Some key ways in which youth can contribute include:

Advocacy and awareness: Young people can raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and the importance of a just transition. By leveraging social media and other platforms, they can educate their peers, advocating for stronger climate policies and actions. Youth-led movements such as Fridays for Future have already demonstrated the power of collective action and advocacy in pushing for climate justice globally.

Innovation and entrepreneurship: Our transition to a low-carbon economy opens up numerous opportunities for innovation. Young entrepreneurs can develop and implement new technologies and business models that reduce emissions and enhance resilience.

For example, start-ups focusing on renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and green technologies such as the ones showcasing at the 9th Annual Green Youth Indaba this week can create jobs and drive economic growth while contributing to climate goals.

Skills development and employment: Education and training are crucial for equipping young people with the skills needed for the green economy. Government and private sector initiatives should focus on providing training in renewable energy, energy efficiency, sustainable agriculture, and other green sectors. By reskilling and upskilling the youth, South Africa can ensure a workforce ready to lead and support the transition.

Addressing barriers to progress

Despite strong commitments, South Africa’s progress in climate action is hindered by incoherent policies, weak governance structures, and insufficient finance. Youth can overcome these barriers firstly, through active participation in governance. This can be achieved through youth councils, advisory boards, and other platforms that give young people a voice in policy development and implementation. By being involved, youth can help ensure that policies are coherent, inclusive, and effectively address the needs of all citizens.

Secondly, climate change disproportionately affects vulnerable communities – young people can work on projects that enhance community resilience, such as disaster risk management, sustainable water use, and climate-smart agriculture.

By engaging in local initiatives, youth can help build the capacity of communities to withstand and adapt to climate impacts. Lastly, innovative financing mechanisms are needed to support climate action and the just transition. Young entrepreneurs and activists can explore and promote sustainable finance options, such as green bonds, carbon credits, and impact investing.

The role of youth in monitoring and accountability

The Presidential Climate Commission’s State of Climate Action report underscores the importance of monitoring progress and holding stakeholders accountable. Young people have an opportunity to play a crucial role in this area by engaging in citizen science projects allowing for data collection and analysis related to climate impacts and actions. This grass-roots involvement can provide valuable insights and support evidence-based decision-making.

Youth can also advocate for greater transparency in climate policies and actions. By monitoring government and corporate commitments, young people can hold leaders accountable and push for the implementation of promised measures. A powerful tool available to young people of this generation is social media, which can be used to drive campaigns that amplify these efforts.

Youth Day on June 16 is a reminder of the pivotal role that young people play in shaping South Africa’s future. Through advocacy, innovation, skills development, and active participation in governance and accountability, young South Africans can drive the just and equitable transition needed to tackle the climate crisis. By harnessing the energy and creativity of its youth, South Africa can build a resilient, inclusive, and sustainable future for all.

Nthabiseng Masinge is a Senior Communications and Stakeholder Relations Specialist in the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC). She also champions the youth and gender initiatives of the PCC.