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Don’t neglect our biggest asset in the climate crisis battle — our youth


Nkosinathi Moshoana is the COO of Primestars, an organisation that runs a variety of youth development programmes, including the What About the Boys? programme.

The green economy presents a twofold opportunity for the youth: the ability to innovate solutions to youth unemployment and local environmental issues.

Sweden’s Greta Thunberg and Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate have shown that age is not a limiting factor when it comes to climate activism. Although political intervention, global climate targets and policy changes are crucial, there is an energy and urgency that youthful passion brings to the crisis, driving awareness and leading to action. 

This urgency is in part driven by the fact that today’s youngsters will bear the brunt of climate change. Of course, millions of the world’s youth are already living with its consequences, particularly those from poor communities.

In our work with high school learners from underresourced communities across South Africa, it is clear that they feel the effects of climate change and environmental damage first hand, although most have not been taught the concepts or definitions. However, the fact that they are not given enough environmental education at school level adds to their vulnerability.

But in our experience as the creators and implementers of a national youth green initiative, our learners are innovative and creative enough to tackle some of the environmental challenges they face in their communities when they are given the right kind of guidance and input.

We see this from the quantity and quality of entries that we get every year in our “Step Up 2 a Green Start Up” national youth entrepreneurship programme, which challenges learners to identify local environmental problems and turn these into business opportunities.

In addition, our development ecosystem provides ongoing support through bursaries, incubation, internships and other resources to help the learners on their journey.

The green economy presents a twofold opportunity for the youth: the ability to innovate solutions to youth unemployment and local environmental issues. 

We’ve learnt that “green leads to green [money]” – taking care of the planet can create jobs. But there are too few that connect environmental opportunity with job creation. There has to be an incentive to want to do better, and we’ve identified through our programme that accepting environmental responsibility leads to financial opportunity.

It is through collaborative national programmes such as Step Up that young people can take their seat at the decision-making table.

And this is potentially where the greatest opportunity to drive positive environmental transformation lies. Sadly, South African youth just aren’t getting enough support for this to happen on a larger scale. 

Our programme is one of the few in the country that empowers learners (more than 12,000 per annum) to learn and engage about the climate crisis, and how to mitigate and adapt against it – but we need greater participation between organisations such as ourselves, government and the private sector to maximise impact.

We need to bring youth to the centre of the discussion around environmentalism and mine this talent – talent that can represent South Africa on global stages such as COP27, which will be held in Egypt in November this year.

It is critical that we equip our youth to take advantage of the many opportunities that the green economy provides. To reduce our high unemployment rate, they will need to learn the skills and develop the competencies that will enable them to create businesses and become gainful employers in a circular, restorative, inclusive and clean economy.

If we’re going to “invest in our planet” – as the 2022 Earth Day theme suggests we do – then we need to invest in our youth. But this must be done with greater urgency by all roleplayers involved in education and the environment.

If society does not equip our youth to take environmental responsibility now, tomorrow may be too late. DM


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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Stephen T says:

    I am immediately suspicious of this article due to the very first sentence…

    There are two sides to this coin. On one side is the science of climate change and on the other is the religion of climate change. I suspect this article falls into the latter category because it makes zero mention of encouraging the youth to study the environmental sciences to further understand what is happening to our climate through empirical evidence-based research. Is this not important as well? Or are the activists, agitators and doomsayers trying to imply that they already have all the answers and know everything there is to know about climate change and that we must give them our money because only they can save us from ourselves?

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