SACAN is part of the Climate Action Network (CAN), a worldwide network of over 1300 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in over 130 countries / Blog  / 2023  / A Seat at the Table? – Pathways for Youth Engagement in the Just Transition

A Seat at the Table? – Pathways for Youth Engagement in the Just Transition

South Africa’s Just Energy Transition Partnership – Investment Plan is a critical initiative to build a more sustainable and equitable energy system for the country. As South Africa transitions towards a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy, it is essential to engage stakeholders from all sectors of society to ensure all accept the plan. One group that is of particular importance in this regard is the youth. This article will explore the importance of engaging the youth as stakeholders in developing South Africa’s Just Energy Transition Partnership – Investment Plan (JETP-IP). It will highlight the role and challenges of the youth in the energy transition, the benefits of their participation, and the potential pathways to ensure their effective engagement in the implementation of South Africa’s JETP-IP. 

The Challenges of  Youth Engagement with the Just Energy Transition Investment Plan 

Youth have the potential to contribute to the just energy transition in numerous ways substantially. They can engage in decision-making processes at both the local and international levels and utilise their skills and knowledge to support the development of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and clean mobility value chains. The youth represent an essential source of talent to achieve energy access, renewable energy, and energy efficiency targets, as they can be positioned to account for a significant percentage of jobs in the renewables sector. Moreover, the younger generation is increasingly involved in climate change and energy transition issues, highlighting the growing importance of their participation in these critical areas.

Recognising this fact, the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) Secretariat and the former Presidential Climate Finance Task Team (PCFTT) have engaged youth as valued stakeholders in their stakeholder engagement processes on the Just Energy Transition Partnership  (JETP) since the year 2022. The JETP engagements held by the PCC Secretariat for youth constituencies were supported by youth organisations, namely Youth@SAIIA and the Youth Climate Champions programme of the Climate Ambition to Accountability Project (a partnership between the WWF SA, the Institute for Economic Justice and Climate Action Network South Africa), co-funded by SIDA and the European Union.  

While having JETP engagements and opening calls for submissions on youth priorities for the JETP-IP demonstrated concerted efforts by the PCC Secretariat to engage youth more meaningfully, there were valid concerns about the process raised by youth constituencies. First, youth, similar to other stakeholders engaged by the PCC Secretariat, was tasked with providing comments and recommendations on a plan to which they still needed access. Youth expressed dissatisfaction about the lack of procedural justice demonstrated in the development of the JET-IP. Civil society representatives lobbied unsuccessfully for the PCFTT  to make the JETP-IP available for public comment to a) allow stakeholders to provide comments from an informed perspective and b) allow the PCFTT to consider stakeholders’ comments ahead of the finalisation of the JETP-IP. Unfortunately, the JETP-IP was made available for public comments once it was finalised, a few days before it was officially presented to the International Partner Group at COP27 in Egypt. 

Second, in response to complaints about the profuse use of technical jargon used in the text of the JETP-IP, the PCC Secretariat held an event to unpack the contents of the JETP-IP once COP27 concluded on the 10th of December 2022. Suppose the event hosts had sufficiently advertised the event in advance. In that case, more young people would have been informed and potentially benefited from the text breakdown provided by critical high-level actors in negotiating and developing the JETP-IP. However, it’s hard to know how much the promotion impacted youth participation. Nevertheless, many stakeholders needed to be made aware of this critical engagement. 

Small Wins: Benefits of Youth Engagement

Engaging youth in decision-making can improve transparency, governance, social inclusion, and empowerment outcomes. Based on recent developments in the PCC Secretariat’s stakeholder engagement process on the JETP-IP, it is suggested that governments should prioritise involving youth in decision-making to achieve these positive results.

The PCC Secretariat announced they would begin public consultations on the JET-IP with social partners starting in February 2023. In line with that, the PCC Secretariat invited the youth to a formal consultation on The Energy (Transition) Plan and Just Energy Transition Partnership Investment  Plan (JET-IP) on the 8th of February, 2023. Valuable information was presented; however, the youth critiqued the consultation for being a one-way dialogue. Their lack of knowledge of the subject and the technical jargon limited their ability to engage meaningfully with the work. In a show of good faith and dedication to meaningful youth engagement, the PCC Secretariat declared that the consultation should instead be considered an information-sharing session, with the promise of a follow-up session held on the 24th of March, 2023. The follow-up session was dialogue because the youth had time to engage with the relevant documents and provide valuable input. As a result of this discussion point, the PCC Secretariat adopted a similar approach to their stakeholder engagement strategy moving forward: an information-sharing session was held before the actual consultations between the PCC Secretariat and their social partners.

Pathways for Youth Engagement in the Just Transition

Photo: Youth Climate Champions Fani Miya and Ziyanda Makalo at a recent hybrid CAAP workshop, “Exploring Meaningful Youth Engagement in South African Climate Policy”

The Global Forum on Sustainable Energy (GFSE) has developed a policy brief on youth involvement in the energy transition; the following are potential recommendations South Africa could adopt for effective youth engagement in implementing the just transition.

Capacity Strengthening: To effectively engage in implementing the JETP, the capacity of youth needs to be strengthened. Education and training programs related to the JETP should be youth responsive. The government and the private sector should provide targeted education and training to the youth on self-organisation, proposal development to turn ideas into actionable plans, green jobs and skills development in the sustainable energy sector. Additionally, they can encourage and support youth-led initiatives that promote decentralised, digitalised, and decarbonised energy systems, which could involve funding or technical assistance for youth-led renewable energy or energy efficiency projects, including those in the electromobility sector.

Provide opportunities for youth engagement in the implementation process: Government should provide meaningful opportunities for youth to participate in the implementation process of the JETP. For example, youth can provide feedback on policy proposals from the early conception stages and be involved in research and analysis. 

Support youth-led advocacy efforts: The government should support youth-led advocacy efforts to promote the goals of the JETP. This can include funding or technical assistance for youth-led campaigns or organising youth-led events to raise awareness about the importance of energy transition. 

By implementing these recommendations, South Africa, through the PCC Secretariat and other relevant stakeholders, can leverage the potential of youth to contribute to the energy transition process effectively. Youth can develop their skills in proposal development, create and disseminate social innovations, participate in the implementation process, and lead advocacy efforts to promote energy transition goals. This will help South Africa achieve its energy transition targets and build a more inclusive and sustainable energy system for all South Africans. Ensuring youth have a seat at the table in the Just Energy Transition is crucial in building an inclusive and sustainable energy system. However, it is equally essential that the table is built on integrity and inclusivity. This means that decision-making and policy formulation should be transparent, fair, and inclusive of diverse voices and perspectives. CAAP’s Youth Climate Champion Programme is developing a position paper on the aforementioned subject matter: Exploring Meaningful Youth Engagement in South African Climate Policy. It will be released at the end of April 2023.

Moliehi Mafantiri is an Intern: Climate Action and Coordination at the South African Climate Action Network (SACAN). She writes this piece in her capacity as a member 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 Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ). The project’s objective is to realise the effective participation of South African organisations in climate change governance to ensure enhanced climate policy ambition, implementation and accountability. The European Union and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency co-funded the project. This blog is the sole responsibility of the project team and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

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