A Breaking Point with the Past: Why young people must shape a sustainable future

Youth strike for climate in Warsaw, Poland, September 2020. Banner image: Shutterstock/Damian Lugowski

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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The recent pandemic has marked the beginning of a devastating crisis for many people, especially youth. Many young people have lost their jobs or faced a decrease in working hours and job opportunities. Young people have also faced disruptions in learning, with many schools closing and classes cancelled or moved online. All of this has contributed to increasing inequalities in our societies. The recent crisis has created new problems and exacerbated existing ones, such as climate change. In this context, the G20 and its youth engagement group, the Youth 20 (Y20), are important platforms on which governments and civil society have the unique opportunity to shape the recovery by radically rethinking our societies’ economic and social principles.

Read the report: "Youth and COVID-19: Response, recovery and resilience" and visit the OECD's COVID-19 Hub to browse hundreds of policy responses

Visit the OECD's COVID-19 Hub

Last year, in view of the G20 Italian Presidency and the Y20 hosted by Italy, Y20 Chair the Young Ambassadors Society (YAS) organised a consultation with Italians between the ages of 18 and 30. Asking their opinion about the most pressing national and international issues, YAS collected the opinions of more than 10,000 young people—and the results were striking. Eight-seven percent of the respondents ranked “climate change” as the top priority that should be addressed by our global leaders.

As a result, climate has been included among the top three priorities of the Y20 this year, in line with the G20 key agenda items. Planet is in fact one of the three pillars identified by the G20 Italian Presidency along with People and Prosperity. Climate change, land degradation, biodiversity loss and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals are issues that have been on the G20 agenda for a long time, and on which governments, private actors and civil society now need to act quickly.

Young people in particular can—and must—make an important contribution as protagonists of the future we are building today. Over the years, youth have represented a unique source of innovative and concrete solutions to the problems of our communities. They are not only beneficiaries of public policies, but also partners in their implementation and agents of positive change. When it comes to protecting our planet and increasing awareness on climate-related issues, young people have proved to be key advocates on the global stage.

Read more on the Forum Network: "Move over. We are adding a seat to the table" by Rahul Pallan, Policy advocate, Young Diplomats of Canada

Read more on the Forum Network: "Move over. We are adding a seat to the table" by Rahul Pallan, Policy advocate, Young Diplomats of CanadaRead more on the Forum Network: "Move over. We are adding a seat to the table" by Rahul Pallan, Policy advocate, Young Diplomats of Canada

Climate change represents a global threat that is already having devastating and irreparable consequences on the economic, social and environmental systems. Although sometimes in the right direction, the policies adopted by governments so far have not yet been sufficient, and in many cases have proven inadequate to achieve the objectives within the set time frame.

The objective of the Y20 this year is to develop innovative ideas and policy proposals emphasising the importance of safeguarding the environment, promoting a circular economy and producing clean energy. We want to make sure that the voices, ideas and concrete actions of young people represent a breaking point with the past for a more efficient, innovative, and sustainable future.

In particular, it is of vital importance to rethink the principles of our economic system and to ensure a speedy transition to one based on sustainability and a circular economy. Building on the opportunities provided by the COVID-19 recovery, we all need to work toward a definition of new inclusive and resilient models to accelerate the energy transition. These are top priorities for the G20 Italian presidency this year, and we hope to see strong support for them from all countries.

Moreover, scientific research and sustainable innovation should be recognised as fundamental tools to build awareness and to address climate challenges; here the role of young people is crucial as creators of innovative solutions. At the Y20, we are urging global leaders to continue supporting the promotion and creation of innovative start-ups, especially for young entrepreneurs in both developing and developed countries. Nowadays, young people are not only victims of climate change but also they are key contributors to, and resources for their communities. Young people are among the most involved in social entrepreneurship projects, such as green start-ups or socially impactful businesses, but for many bureaucracy and access to finance remain the main barriers to scalable solutions.

The way forward must be supported by a modern education system that plays a key role in developing awareness of climate challenges. Schools and universities are an important component in training people who are aware of and ready to address the environmental threats of the present and the future. At the same time, it is critical to make sure that young people acquire the skills needed to promote sustainable, “green” economy models.

After a dramatic year and given the huge challenges ahead of us, as the Y20 we hope that the G20 and the COP26 this November will represent concrete steps towards laying down the foundations of a green and sustainable future. Despite all the difficulties, we are sure that the commitment, hard work and motivation of young people around the world is a source of hope for a brighter, cleaner future.

Read the report "Managing Environmental and Energy Transitions for Regions and Cities" and see the latest OECD data for #ClimateAction, recommendations and policy advice on the Green Recovery

Related Topics

Tackling COVID-19 Green Recovery Intergenerational Solidarity SDGs


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Alberta Pelino

Chair, Y20 Italy

Alberta is the Chair of Y20 Italy, the G20 engagement group for youth.

She is the Founder and President of the Young Ambassadors Society, the association aimed at fostering civic engagement of young people with the support of the Italian Government and Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She also works in the financial sector and she holds a MSc in Economics from Bocconi University.