Earth Day 2021 – The Importance of Green Jobs
by Will Straw, CEO Prince's Trust International
Over 50 years ago, Life Magazine printed “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”
This picture, of the Earth visible from the Apollo 8 lunar spacecraft, inspired peace activist John McConnell’s design for the Earth Day flag – which was celebrated for the first time on 22nd April 1970, and every year since.
For over half a century, Earth Day has marked the moment when those worried about the planet’s future come together – it is estimated that Earth Day engages over a billion people worldwide. It has also marked extraordinary political change, like when nations came together to sign the historic Paris Agreement on Earth Day 2016.
This year, President Biden will convene a two-day virtual summit of world leaders on climate, aiming to secure more ambitious national commitments to fighting climate change – particularly vital given the high-profile COP26 climate summit scheduled to take place in Glasgow this November. In recent days, the US and UK have upped their domestic targets.
While plans to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 are essential, climate disruption already poses a significant threat to young people, especially those in the Global South, and will grow in the future. If we are to minimise further devastation, there is no time to spare.
Earth Day 2021 must be the day that we put young people at the heart of a green, sustainable and ‘circular’ economy – whether in energy, transport, manufacturing, or agriculture.
Prince’s Trust International’s programmes aim to empower the world’s youth to thrive, preparing them for sustainable employment in the industries of the future. We have been working to integrate green thinking into our programmes to equip young people with the knowledge and skills to be competitive in tomorrow’s job markets. This year, we will expand this work and aim to help young people access paid jobs or internship placements in low carbon sectors. Later this year, Prince’s Trust International will launch our Green Enterprise Challenge competition encouraging young people in countries around the world to develop green business ideas.
By encouraging young people to innovate to prevent climate change, they can influence generational change in attitudes to climate protection. Our own President and Founder, HRH The Prince of Wales has been campaigning for the environment for 50 years. Earlier this year, he launched the ‘Terra Carta’ to put sustainability at the heart of the private sector as part of his Sustainable Markets Initiative. His father, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh was an early campaigner for environmental protection, prominently addressing the Conference on World Pollution in 1970. This Earth Day, HRH the Duke of Cambridge’s Earthshot Prize council is publishing an open letter on the importance of innovation and learning the lessons from Covid-19 to stop the global threat of climate change.
Over the last year, we have been intimately reminded of our connection to the natural world by the Covid-19 pandemic. As countries locked down and people stayed at home, everyone heard birds singing outside, saw images of deer wandering through deserted cities, or learned that the collapse in air pollution meant that some people could see the Himalayas for the first time in decades.
Young people have been less vulnerable to the severity of Covid-19 than their parents and grandparents, but the effect on their education and livelihoods has been devastating.
According to UNICEF, 800 million children worldwide are still not fully back in school and double that number have faced some disruption to their education. Millions are expected never to return to the classroom. Significantly, more than 1 in 6 young people have stopped working since the pandemic began with youth unemployment running well ahead of broader trends.
Although vaccines are being rolled out across some wealthier countries, Covid-19 infections hit a new record last week. Given the increasing spread of transmission, low access to vaccines for poorer countries and variants of concern, the pandemic is nowhere near its conclusion for most of the global population. Young people should not be forced to choose between their lives and their livelihoods.
This is not a new crisis. Even before the pandemic, a fifth of young people were not in work, education, or training. As the economic shock becomes apparent and furlough schemes wind down, youth unemployment is expected to increase even further.
If governments are serious about ‘building back better’ and tackling the climate emergency, a successful and sustainable recovery is impossible without young people at its heart.