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Find your spot in the green economy

Young people, take note: the green job market is calling.

As a mother of two teenage girls, my mind has turned to what they might do with the path ahead of them. What has caught me off-guard is the sense of sadness that taints my conversations with them and their friends: they wonder about the future of the planet, and as a result, the future of their generation.

Environmental and climate crises can hijack our minds and energy. However, looking to solutions like the green economy, can inspire you. 

It’s a collective call to action: whatever your passion, skill or education, there are opportunities ahead as we embrace a different economic system. 

So, what do we mean by the green economy? The green economy and its jobs are defined by three things: a low carbon footprint, an efficient use of resources and social inclusivity. The latter is especially important for South Africa, still stalked by inequality. 

The transition to the green economy will nullify many jobs but create far more, resulting in a net creation of 25 million jobs globally by 2030, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a United Nations agency that sets international labour standards to advance social and economic justice.

© Tanya Farber / WWF
The green economy can mean working out in nature, or in an office, but with the same goals in mind.
What role do young people have to play?

27-year-old Marcelin Barry is a passionate young man who is working for WWF South Africa as a Marine Coastal and Community Monitor in Kleinmond. He started volunteering with WWF in 2017 and because of this, he was perfectly placed when an opportunity for training and work on a local WWF citizen science project was advertised. 

I recently spent time with him walking along the beach in Kleinmond to get a better sense of what his working day looks like. It was encouraging to a see a young person who genuinely cares about the environment and is doing something practical to protect it. 

He is also very clear about the personal gains that come with doing such work.  

“When you work with the environment, so many of your skills improve, including communication skills because you work with so many different people.  Jobs are being created because we need to come up with solutions.” 

He told me, “Young people have a role to play. People leave footprints behind, and the older generation have made mistakes, but they have also started finding solutions and it is up to us as young people to build on those and find new ones. This is ongoing work for our generation.” 

© Tanya Farber / WWF
Marcelin Barry says young people's skills grow exponentially when working in the green economy.
Political will could also come from the youth

When school-goer Otsile Nkadimeng took his seat on the stage for a “sustainable futures” panel discussion at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in May, the yawning gap between his age and that of the audience was striking. He had been invited to speak at The Gathering Earth edition, an event organised by the Daily Maverick news platform, to find solutions to the country’s energy, environmental and economic crises. 

I was eager to hear what he had to share, and as he began speaking with such clarity and passion, my mind jumped quickly from the headspace of “problems” to that of “solutions”. 

As a young climate activist, Nkadimeng said, to rapturous applause, “This is not just a climate discussion. Solutions will enable our economy with jobs and help fix our fractured political structures. We are currently lacking the leadership for a functional state. We need leaders that will give us a sense of confidence in the future."

Nkadimeng’s words hit home when you consider that he average age of Africa’s inhabitants is 19, yet the average age of its leaders is 63.

He inspires confidence that the next generation has answers to questions that the current crop of leaders battles to answer.

© Taryn Bodill
The green economy highlights how different branches of science are interlinked with one another and every other sphere of human activity.
The green economy is not all about science: arts and humanities are crucial too

Nasreen Al-Amin is the founder of Surge Africa, a non-profit that advocates for local communities affected by climate change on the continent. She spoke recently at a pan African online gathering called Rise Africa, organised by ICLEI Africa which focuses on sustainable urban development.

She says that information, data and campaigns are often targeted at people already within the green economy, but that it shouldn’t be this way. Environmental and climate issues become more related when conveyed through storytelling and other creative forms.

In light of this, the green economy presents opportunities for artists, teachers, journalists, communication specialists and others who want to work in the humanities and creative fields rather than just science or the environmental sector.

Gwynne Liversage, a WWF intern placed at Sustainable Energy Africa, is getting hands-on experience as an environmental journalist.

She says, “I want to be a part of the global conversation on environmental awareness, especially in the form of storytelling and visual media. I also want to raise awareness about different lives and stories from across the globe with sustainable solutions as the end goal.”

Gwynne’s green job experience illustrates the importance of the humanities in a crisis that is not just for the scientists to solve.

The creative arts and humanities disciplines also have a major role to play in the green economy.
What about commerce and finance?

Ingrid Coetzee, a project leader stationed in South Africa at ICLEI Africa, said that in recent times, funders, practitioners and institutions have strengthened investments to tackle climate change and nature-based solutions. 
Money is changing hands through transactions and investments in the green economy, and so those involved in commerce and finance are crucial players, proving once again that it is not just in the hands of the scientists and environmentalists. 

Vhonani Mulaudzi, a young zoology graduate from Limpopo, is a case in point.  
Currently interning at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), in their Sustainable Wildlife Economies Project, she told me that by working as a WWF intern in economics, she gets to research and influence policy-making that will determine how the wildlife economy is made sustainable.   

© Danie Nel / WWF
Lauren Moos, far right, is a young environmental lawyer who says law and policy-making are crucial to protect nature.
Where young lawyers can find their place in the green economy

Also speaking at The Gathering Earth edition, environmental lawyer Kate Handley heads up the Biodiversity Law Centre, and says that she co-founded it because other parties and communities looking to protect biodiversity and ecosystems increasingly need legal experts to represent them. 
“Law is an incredibly powerful tool for the change we need to tackle the sixth extinction,” she says. 
The biodiversity crisis – and nature loss – results from the fact that the species extinction rate is now 10 000 times bigger than previous extinction events. 
The previous events were outcomes of natural events, but this one is being caused by human activities and it is up to us as a species to make every attempt to avert the disaster we have caused. 
What struck me was her point that “mobilising communities’ power through the courts” is crucial, and to this end, more young people joining environmental law is important. 
Lauren Moos is one such young environmental lawyer. As a WWF intern, she is currently placed at South African National Parks (SANParks) and talks with great passion about how excited she is to be using her skills so that she becomes part of the solution. 
“I chose my course of study so that I could be involved in climate and environmental litigation, hold wrongdoers accountable and seek justice for those who have suffered due to environmental abuses,” Lauren shared. 

The environment is everyone’s business: find your opportunity in the green economy

Pavitray Pillay, a behaviour change specialist from WWF  South Africa, says, “With the dual crises of biodiversity loss and climate change, a whole- society approach is needed, from government to private business to communities and individuals because we are all knitted into the ecosystem.” 
As Pillay says, “We are innovative and genius as a species and for business this is an opportunity to address it. It's a massive way of averting risk and a wonderful opportunity to help the entire planet move forward to be equitable and inclusive.” 
Her passionate use of the word “opportunity” is just another remind to me that, even from an employability perspective, the green economy is the place to be. 
I came away from all these interactions with a renewed sense of hope. There is no doubt that the world is in trouble on many levels, but if we are defeatist about it, we lose all agency over any hope of correcting it.  
When the climate crisis comes up in conversation with my daughters and their friends, I now do my utmost to tune in to what they are saying and listen to their fears and understand their anger. But, in equal measure, I want to remind them and all other young people: the future is yours; an important mission awaits you, and it needs your skills, courage and strength more than ever before! 

Tanya Farber Photo
Tanya Farber, Communications Coordinator

Tanya Farber loves nature, photography and the written word.

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