SACAN is part of the Climate Action Network (CAN), a worldwide network of over 1300 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in over 130 countries / Blog  / 2024  / Intergenerational Pathways- Capacitating Youth Skills in the Just Transition

Intergenerational Pathways- Capacitating Youth Skills in the Just Transition

“As young people, before we even knew what climate change was, we felt it. We felt it on our bodies, we felt it in our families and we felt it in our communities because we did not just hear the word, we were experiencing it.”
– Ayakha Melithafa, Presidential Climate Commissioner (Youth)

The journey towards a sustainable and climate-resilient future necessitates concerted efforts of all generations, especially young people. However, South African youth have historically faced marginalization in policy discussions and have often been excluded from decision-making processes that directly impact their futures. To address this gap, the Youth Climate Champions (YCC) program under the Climate Ambition to Accountability Project (CAAP) led by the World Wide Fund (WWF), the South African Climate Action Network (SACAN), and the Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) was established to develop a strong cohort of youth champions engaged in climate action and policy processes. The program provides a platform for young people to share knowledge and strategies on climate solutions. Recently, the CAAP team, in collaboration with the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) organized the 3rd Annual YCC Intergenerational Dialogue. This event was hosted at the 9th Annual Green Youth Indaba conference from the 13th-14th of June 2024 at the Nkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban, eThekwini Municipality. 

This intergenerational dialogue was titled “Fostering Future-Ready Youth for a Just Transition,” a hybrid moderated discussion that brought together youth leaders and activists, policymakers, civil society representatives, and experts in energy, climate, and sustainable development. The primary aim of this dialogue was to bridge a gap between the development of a just transition policy and youth participation in the implementation of policy by providing a policy framework dialogue and operational tools to address climate change in a manner that promotes social justice and fosters the creation of decent jobs for young people. The timing of this dialogue was particularly significant as it coincided with the 48th anniversary of the June 16, 1976, Soweto student uprising, a pivotal moment in South Africa’s history that highlights the power and potential of youth in driving societal change. This historical reflection, alongside the celebration of 30 years of democracy in South Africa, provided an opportune moment to recognize and empower today’s youth in shaping a sustainable future. Moreover, this dialogue was a build-up from the 2023 YCC intergenerational dialogue on “Youth and Government for Inclusive Policy” and it presented the linkages between just transition and skills development to provide young people with information and get their perspectives on recommendations for implementation. This is especially important because the adoption of just transition in policy and cross-cutting themes demands careful consideration of the needs, priorities, and circumstances of various groups, especially young people, as they are the ones who will bear the brunt of dealing with these policies in the future.

The dialogue highlighted  the concept of skills development as one of the most important policy areas for promoting socio-economic and environmental sustainability, a key component for the Just Transition. The transition from a high carbon economy to a low carbon economy as per nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement outlines adaptation and mitigation strategies in specific economic sectors including tourism, construction, manufacturing, energy, and agriculture. These sectors will require specialized skills to achieve the objectives of the 2030 Agenda, particularly in creating decent jobs and fostering green economies. This means that having the right skills is essential for the transition to a low carbon, socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable economies with decent work opportunities.

However, South Africa’s Just Transition discussions are not without their challenges, according to Commissioner Mbalenhle Baduza from the PCC, the South African government faces competing priorities in the Just Transition implementation, especially within the energy sector particularly because, achieving energy security and economic growth while also meeting climate commitments often conflict with each other. This lack of consensus delays necessary actions for the just transition. Thus, the importance of skills development cannot be overstated. To effectively address the impacts of climate change on people’s livelihoods and ensure successful adaptation, it is crucial to recognize and invest in skills development. Tackling this issue according to Ms Bertha Letsoko from the African Climate Reality Project (ACRP), requires the need for a contextualized framework for skills development that speaks to the lived experiences of the people in their communities, especially the marginalized communities. She calls for sustainable skills development programs that are economically viable for young people, and relevant to their lived experiences in creating effective and inclusive green skills programs, including conversations on the green economy that will equip them from the onset about the just transition. This means that planning for skills development must be aligned with key climate and environmental policies to ensure that skill requirements are met and climate commitments are effectively implemented. Additionally, it is important to include marginalized groups in these skills development programs. This includes young people, especially those not in formal education or training, the unemployed, informal workers, low-skilled workers in rural areas or townships, and owners and workers of small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs). This pronounces the need to inform policies like the Just Energy Transition Investment Plan (JETIP) and the importance of big business as true vehicles for Just Transition in order to ensure that no one is left behind in conversations about the green economy and skills.

The Role of JETIP and Big Businesses in the Just Transition

Therefore, in recognising skills development as the critical cross cutting need for the just transition, the JETIP and big businesses like the National Business Initiative (NBI) have initiated skilling programmes. This is because a just transition is not solely about energy; but also about transforming the economy to address socio economic needs of those who will be most affected by the transition. According to Odirile Mariri from the NBI and Sikhululekile Duma  from the Just Energy Transition Investment Plan Project Management Unit (JET-IP PMU), they have been strategically and actively engaging with Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges to create a skills ecosystem for developing future-proof skills. This approach has been strategic in the sense that the TVET colleges that they engage with are often situated in rural areas and townships, which serve as key hubs for skills development and further assist in mapping skills and demand in marginalized communities. This is a crucial factor in the adaptation approach of a Just Transition that allows them to ensure that the skills they promote, along with those of the SMMEs they support, are necessary for new energy vehicles, renewable energy plants, and green manufacturing. This approach is essential as the green economy and green skills span various sectors beyond traditional areas like agriculture, water, and waste management. The objective is to instill a green mindset across all sectors, including less obvious ones such as manufacturing, thereby promoting widespread adoption of environmentally friendly practices. This approach according to Duma also makes the just energy transition inclusive and effective for the benefit of young people who will inherit the future economy.


Strategies for Advancing Youth Inclusion and Public Engagement in Climate Action

Due to the fact that most of these discussions are not unique to South Africa but prevalent across the SADC region, Ms. Esther Chilala from the Zambian Institute for Policy Analysis and Research emphasizes the importance of inclusive representation of young people in the policy implementation processes of the just transition. Chilala advocates for regional collaboration and the sharing of best practices to address these common and critical issues within this space. These strategies for collaboration according to Commissioner Mbali Baduza require concerted efforts from all members of society that is rooted in community education, grassroots mobilization, and strategic litigation that makes complex climate change issues and action relatable and actionable for ordinary people, respectively to ensure that our voices as young people are heard and acted upon. According to Mariri, platforms like the Green Youth Indaba and the YCC dialogue remain essential for engaging young people. He further states that these discussions should be extended to local communities through mediums like community radio stations to ensure wider reach and relevance because it is important that we adapt young people’s behaviors, perceptions, and mindsets towards valuing various career paths. Thus, career guidance specialists need to be well-informed about the current and future job market trends, especially in the context of a just transition. To ensure that this is effectively done, Letsoko highlights that technical jargon should be avoided to ensure that everyone, including elders and young children, can understand the issue of climate change and its impact on their socio economic and environmental livelihoods. Furthermore, she states that climate change should be discussed in connection with other pressing issues like skills development, healthcare, access to resources, and daily livelihoods of people to make it more relevant to people’s lives.


Reflecting on this intergenerational dialogue, the green transition holds the promise of job creation, but this potential can only be realized by prioritizing the development of relevant skills and training. Therefore, to achieve this, countries must integrate green job skills into their education and training systems, in order to ensure that these skills are recognized and align with labor market demands. This calls for progressive skills strategies within climate and environmental policies, supported by active labor market measures and career guidance mechanisms. Moreover, ensuring a just and inclusive transition necessitates prioritizing the needs of marginalized groups. One can therefore, confidently argue that the just transition of any country relies on multi stakeholder engagement of civil society, workers and employers, education departments, training providers, governments, and the international community through social dialogue and broad participation.

Esihle Mihlali Dube is a Development Studies Masters candidate with a keen interest in politics and development. She writes this in her capacity as a Climate Action & Coordination Intern at the Climate Action Network South Africa (SACAN).

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