Written by Stephanny Ulivieri
It can be affirmed that young people are generally more aware of the various social and environmental concerns that our planet faces and possess the willingness and potential to address these issues and guide societies towards a low-carbon, climate resilient future (SNV Netherlands Development Organisation). At the same time, there is an important linkage between youth employment, poverty, and climate change.
The agricultural sector is one of the major sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which are responsible for climate change, and at the same time, it is also likely to be the socioeconomic sector that already suffers and will suffer the most from it (FAO, 2022). Thus, it is both a contributing factor and a potential solution for climate change, rendered ever more critical in areas that heavily relay on the agricultural activities (Lynch, Cain, Frame, & Pierrehumbert, 2021).
In the European Union, young people account for up to 25% of the total population. However, unemployment and underemployment among the youth are persistent concerns (European Union, 2021). In early 2021, the EU member states reached a historic agreement, the European Green Deal, which cemented the EU’s commitment to achieving climate neutrality by 2050 (Simon, 2021). The commitment aligns with the current 2022 Year of the Youth during which the Union vows to “need the vision, engagement and participation of all young people to build a better future, that is greener, more inclusive and digital” (Gospodinova & Dejone, 2021). The Year of Youth seeks synergies, complementarity, and a participatory approach with other EU youth-focused programs across the policy spectrum. They range from young farmer-focused rural development programs to research and innovation programs, and from cohesion to climate change actions – including EU youth-focused programs with international outreach or a transnational nature (Gospodinova & Dejone, 2021).
Taking into account the prominence of the agricultural field in the climate change panorama, it is worth mentioning that only 11% of all farm holdings in the European Union are managed by farmers under the age of 40, making it difficult to persuade additional young people to take up farming (European Commission, 2022). Faced with an aging farming population, the EU is increasing its efforts to recruit young people to enter the industry (European Commission, 2022).
In the last decades, young people have had limited decent career opportunities, which have led to the perpetuation of poverty or “low-pay” traps, social instability, isolation, and migration. Given the intersectional reach of the negative effects of climate change, this phenomenon is expected to generate new poverty traps that will disproportionately affect individuals in vulnerable categories, such as women, children, and the youth. Consequently, addressing the negative impacts of climate change poses a good chance to solve combined concerns of youth unemployment and poverty, by investing for example in climate smart agricultural and clean energy technologies and by drawing a larger number of young people into these ventures (SNV Netherlands Development Organisation).
While investments in workforce development, job creation, improved education, and wealth redistribution are all elements urgently needed to create employment prospects for young people, a new climate aware lens needs to become a constant in problem identification and solving.
How exactly are climate change and employment linked?
Climate change and environmental degradation pose serious threats to economic growth and employment, given that climate change-related shocks hinder efforts to alleviate poverty (SNV Netherlands Development Organisation). Additionally, old machinery, out-of-date agricultural procedures, and a lack of sustainable agriculture farming practices have negative consequences for society and the environment as a whole (Gonzalez & Davis, 2019). Those communities working and dependent on economic sectors reliant on natural resources and climate, such as agriculture, energy, and water are set to be disproportionately affected. Both climate change adaptation and initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions provide potential to create new jobs while at the same time strengthening existing ones (SNV Netherlands Development Organisation). Climate action has the potential to spur investment and innovation in new products and services, resulting in the creation of new jobs and the transformation of existing ones to be more sustainable and green.
The development of young employment skills is an opportunity to meet demand and ease the necessary transition towards a greener and more sustainable future. Studies show that youth employment projects to date show that there is a strong desire to work in innovative (technology-driven) climate smart industries, particularly among young people (SNV Netherlands Development Organisation). Targeted skills and employment programs in the right regions and industries, are required to maximize the employment prospects and reduce the negative impacts of climate action (SNV Netherlands Development Organisation). European countries must ensure that their workforce can adapt to the problems and respond to the opportunities that lie ahead.
Some of the main mechanisms which can be used to mitigate climate change’s negative impact on youth employment are: First, a proper and thorough assessment of market skills needs associated with the transition to a low-carbon economy and achievement of sustainable development goals (SDGs) targets. Second, promoting an identification of relevant and green growth strategies, their impact on investment and innovation in certain sectors and industries, such as climate smart agriculture and renewable energy. Third, establishment of multi-stakeholder frameworks to facilitate business links, including youngsters seeking employment and entrepreneurship opportunities. This entails boosting the capacity of local incubators, accelerators, and general business support services, both for current enterprises and for youth entrepreneurship and enterprise development (SNV Netherlands Development Organisation). Fourth, energy, waste management, and other rural infrastructure-related industries can be identified as the most viable value chains for green development in the agri-food and rural economic sectors (Gonzalez & Davis, 2019). Fifth, active participation and cooperation with both the public and private sectors, with the goal of ensuring that actions are sustainable and owned by local actors, will be key in effectively challenging youth unemployment risks by enhancing the ability of public actors to identify, address, and guide youth employment and entrepreneurship initiatives that promote green growth (SNV Netherlands Development Organisation).
To put it differently, inclusive business solutions for youth employment and entrepreneur development in the agriculture and energy sectors can be considered as promising pathways to tackle the linkage between youth unemployment and climate change, given that working on supply chains and support for farmers, businesses, and communities, alongside addressing climate adaptation and mitigation illustrates a pressing need and opportunity to align efforts (SNV Netherlands Development Organisation). In order to scale up green job prospects in rural areas, the private sector and especially impact investors, will be vital actors (SNV Netherlands Development Organisation). Lastly, green business advisory groups’ involvement will allow the private sector to participate and guide the younger part of the population in the development of sustainable business models that address green skills development (both transferable and sector-specific) and job prospects (employed and entrepreneurial) (Gonzalez & Davis, 2019).
To conclude, it is important to consider that green solutions to youth unemployment have the potential to create long-term jobs, boost economic growth across numerous sectors, and address the need for good jobs that consider occupational health and safety, local employment, gender equality, and equitable access to jobs. While employment is a crucial channel for young people’s social, economic, and political inclusion, no attempt of changing the system will be able to materialize without considering the modern climate crisis. As the EU grapples with its rising youth population and the need for long-term, inclusive, and dignified jobs, governments should bolster green solutions for assisting in achieving these critical goals. With agriculture in mind, start-up funding, income support, and advantages like further training, will allow young people to kick start their professional endeavors (European Commission, 2022).
Why is this important?
All in all, the relation between climate change and youth employment is a pressing issue which is set to become more central in the coming years. Engaging young people in agricultural-focused climate action is both a challenge and an opportunity for the agriculture sector to achieve sustainable development through youth-led solutions to climate change (Gaba, 2021).
Supporting the next generation of European farmers will aid in improving the EU’s agriculture future competitiveness, while also helping to ensure Europe’s food supply. Furthermore, adopting greener solutions has the potential to mitigate youth unemployment and underemployment, thus helping to provide adequate living standards to 25% of the European population (European Commission, 2022). Thus, green employment has the potential to make use of a holistic approach that encompasses fair pay, safe working conditions, job security, realistic career opportunities, and worker rights (Gaba, 2021). Only solutions that aim at addressing the climate crisis in collaboration with young people hold the potential to truly have a sustainable and long term mitigating impact and perhaps becoming a turning point, both on the European and global levels .
European Commission. (2022). Young farmers. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from European Commission: https://ec.europa.eu/info/food-farming-fisheries/key-policies/common-agricultural-policy/income-support/young-farmers_en
European Union. (2021, October 29). Make your voice heard, join the 25% Project! Retrieved February, 18 2022, from European Youth Portal: https://europa.eu/youth/news/make-your-voice-heard-join-25-project_en
FAO. (2022). Climate Change. Retrieved February, 18 2022, from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: https://www.fao.org/climate-change/en/
Gaba, K. (2021, September 17). Addressing Climate Challenges through Youth Employment in Agri-Food Systems. Retrieved March 11 2022, from AgriLinks: https://agrilinks.org/post/addressing-climate-challenges-through-youth-employment-agri-food-systems
Gonzalez , G., & Davis, B. (2019). Green Jobs for Youth: Adapting to climate change through green enterprise and creating jobs for rural youth. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Gospodinova, S., & Dejone, C. (2021, October 14). Commission kick-starts work to make 2022 the European Year of Youth. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from European Comission: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_21_5226
Lynch, J., Cain, M., Frame, D., & Pierrehumbert, R. (2021, February 3,). Agriculture’s Contribution to Climate Change and Role in Mitigation Is Distinct From Predominantly Fossil C02-Emitting Sectors. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 4, 300, https://doi.org/10.3389/fsufs.2020.518039
Simon, F. (2021, April 21). Breakthrough as EU negotiators clinch deal on European climate law. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from Euractiv: https://www.euractiv.com/section/climate-environment/news/breakthrough-as-eu-negotiators-clinch-deal-on-european-climate-law/
SNV Netherlands Development Organisation. (n.d.). Climate Change and Youth Employment. SNV Netherlands Development Organisation.