Greening the Youth

07 Aug 2020

The economic fall-out from the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in large-scale job losses. Youth unemployment is forecast to reach the 1 million mark over the coming year unless the government provides an ambitious recovery plan. The “corona class of 2020”, 800,000 school leavers and graduates due to join the labour market, are the most exposed age group to the likely unemployment surge caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Scotland’s economic recovery plan post COVID must guarantee jobs for young people. Bold government action can mitigate both mass unemployment and the imminent climate and nature crises.


Without support and investment, nature cannot continue to provide the well being and livelihoods we depend on. Our health and well being should be based on a healthy and resilient environment. As well as ensuring the climate and biodiversity emergencies are part of our recovery, economic recovery and nature’s recovery should go hand in hand. Green jobs are the basic components of a green economy. Green jobs are central to sustainable development and can respond to challenges such as environmental protection, economic development and social inclusion. Up to 60 million new jobs worldwide in the green economy could potentially be created by 2030. A green recovery from COVID-19 could see increased education and skills provision for young people which could link to the new green jobs needed to promote the sectors of the economy likely to deliver on social, economic and climate justice. In 2018, a survey conducted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy of 1,000 young people aged 18-24 revealed climate concerns and new opportunities are driving young people towards careers in the green economy. Youth unemployment, climate change and the nature crisis may appear as different issues, yet they have a common mutual solution. These challenges are intrinsically linked and should be tackled together. A green economy provides a crucial lifeline for young people facing unemployment after coronavirus.


As more young people identify climate change as the defining issue of their generation, more are seeking careers that will have a positive environmental impact. A 2020 survey carried out by the Royal Society of Chemistry asked 1,008 UK students between the ages of 15 and 18 for their views on environmental issues and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). The survey found that around one-quarter are keen to pursue a career in the green economy such as renewable energy or with an environmental NGO which is working directly to combat climate change and the nature crisis. More young people are seeking careers that will have a positive environmental impact and can adapt most easily to the new ‘green requirements’ that are needed in the labour market. However, the transition from education to employment is becoming a complicated process due to the instability of employment.


Tomorrow’s workforce is actively calling for major changes. Climate change protests erupted in 2019 with millions around the world standing up to demand climate justice. The protests were attended predominately by young people. Young people are increasingly concerned about the future of the planet and their vested interest in environmental issues can act as a key driver for greening economies. Teach the Future Scotland campaign is a student-led campaign to repurpose the Scottish education system around the climate emergency, climate justice and ecological crisis. The students behind the campaign believe that young people need to be taught about this emergency and be equipped with the skills to live and lead sustainably. The campaign advocates for the reinventing and reforming of education around the climate emergency and ecological crisis. The campaign asks for this to be a well-funded strategic priority for the Scottish Government from 2021. Young people must be educated and aware of the rapidly changing world they are entering. We must develop in a way that is working with nature and linking in natural capital to address the climate emergency alongside the biodiversity crisis.


Many of the global challenges to development are especially salient for young people. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) established that young people are a driving force for development, however only if they are provided with the skills and opportunities needed to reach their potential and support development. By equipping young people with skills, knowledge and confidence in their abilities, there is a real chance that governments can harness the potential of young people to reach the SDGs over the next 14 years.


If properly managed, green growth can provide an opportunity to address the youth employment challenge while simultaneously preserving biodiversity and increasing climate resilience. Governments have the opportunity to harness young people’s sense of agency by engaging them in formulation, co-creation and/or implementation of policy responses and recovery plans.


Juliet Caldwell

Species Champion Coordinator at Scottish Environment LINK

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