The OECD's Power of Youth series showcases the perspectives and experiences of young people who are shaping the future. Exploring topics from gender equality and education to climate and careers, the series gives a voice to young advocates and activists who we met at different events, as well as members of Youthwise, the OECD's youth advisory board.
The OECD Forum Network is a space for experts and thought leaders—from around the world and all parts of society— to discuss and develop solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
As part of the OECD COP27 virtual pavilion, Youthwise (the OECD's youth advisory board) and analysts from OECD Horizontal Project on climate and economic resilience co-created an event to discuss how we can leverage the current energy crisis to bring about significant change, and include the voice and experience of youth in doing so.
I was honored to represent Youthwise in this discussion alongside young panelists with government, NGO and policy backgrounds. The panel included OECD policy analyst Kilian Raiser (moderator), IEA energy modeller Leonie Staas, Slovenian member of parliament Sara Žibrat, and Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet representative Naomi Wagura.
Should you be interested, a replay of the event can be found here.
Although a number of important messages emerged from the discussion, the following points stood out to me as key takeaways:
1) The energy crisis affects different people differently
The impacts of the energy crisis are not felt evenly across different regions and socioeconomic groups. If we focus on the members of Youthwise who are generally highly educated and, therefore, in privileged positions, we see a range of impacts. From Youthwise members in Japan and Canada, we see limited personal/financial impacts but a real sense of change occurring in their nations, with Japan taking steps toward energy independence for example. At the same time, in Canada, there are moves towards increased fossil fuel energy exports to aid Europe through the energy crises, partly going against progress achieved concerning climate change.
A Youthwise member in Mexico did not have the luxury to worry about this energy crisis as her area has been undergoing an energy supply crisis for the past 30 years, which impacts both quality of life and health via fossil fuel emissions. During the event, one of the panellists partly echoed this, asking: "An [energy] transition from what? We [certain central African countries] have none".
A Youthwise member in Türkiye was experiencing different crises simultaneously, leading to significant financial and health impacts. Youthwise members in Italy, the United Kingdom and Switzerland are experiencing a mix of anger and trepidation. Anger that people are not more up in arms at their nations' lack of energy independence, coupled with record profits for energy suppliers; and trepidation wondering how the situation will evolve, as the warm October in Europe has, in part, shielded countries from the worst of the energy crisis.
2) Demand-side behavioural changes are essential
As was highlighted during the event, behavioural changes can contribute in three critical ways to the energy transition. First, they can help reduce emissions from existing carbon-intensive assets without waiting for stock turnover, technological advances, and increases in clean energy supply. Second, they are some of the best ways to tackle hard-to-abate sectors, such as aviation where technological options are scarce and/or too expensive to implement. Finally, they can temper demand growth, reducing the speed at which clean technologies need to be rolled out.
This needs to be done and evaluated with a keen consideration of social justice as everyone will not be able to make the same reductions. And not everyone needs to: those with the most should do the most.
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3) Convenience and price are essential to make behavioural changes stick
A critical point that several panellists brought up was that convenience and price are vital if behavioural changes are to remain once a crisis has been adapted to. This is partially why specific, positive behavioural changes undergone during COVID-19 did not stick. For this crisis, we do not have the luxury of allowing ourselves to go back to our old ways of life, as we need many of these new behaviours to stick to bring about a green and inclusive society. Another point discussed in the event further highlighted that politicians have a duty to lead by example to show what is possible, such as by making different mobility and diet choices.
4) We need money
As one panellist put it, "There is brilliance everywhere"; what is mainly missing when it comes to transition in Africa and elsewhere is finance. There needs to be an uptick in climate finance from the public and private sectors to allow mitigation and adaptation initiatives to be implemented. Local knowledge is critical for these to be successful, and we need to provide resources so local actors can apply it. This uptick in climate finance is something we hope will come out of COP27.
5) Multiple pressure points are required for this transition
"It is a kitchen sink kind of moment". Time is short when we consider the changes required for a green and inclusive society. Thus, various methods must be employed to bring about this change. To mention only a few, this includes taxing people correctly, removing financial barriers to adaption/mitigation actions and behavioural change from both people and governments.
So to answer the question at the heart of the discussion of our event: yes, I believe that we can leverage the current energy crisis to create green and inclusive societies.
Now comes the tricky part of making that happen.