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Editorial: Catalyzing economies, growing youth employment without destroying the Earth

September 29, 2011

This editorial by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director and Gusti Muhammad Hatta, Environment Minister of the Republic of Indonesia, appeared in the Jakarta Post on Monday, 26 September 2011

The orginal article can be found here.

As delegates from around the world converge in Indonesia for the Tunza International Children and Youth Conference 2011, greening the economy as well as generating decent jobs for young people now and in the future are emerging as major tests for the global economy.

The events that have swept through parts of North Africa and the Middle East in recent months have in part been a reaction to joblessness and a mood of frustration and hopelessness among the unemployed and under-employed, especially youth.

Youth unemployment in many countries of the region hovers at around 23 to 29 percent, but can be higher. The youth employment crisis isn’t confined to any region or developing countries – in the eurozone, youth unemployment has jumped from 14 percent to 20 percent in the past few years, and in some countries, the number is even higher.

In Asia, youth are 4.7 times more likely to be unemployed than adults. In some parts of Africa, youth unemployment can be as high as 70 percent.

Globally, youth account for a quarter of the working age population but account for 40 percent of unemployment.

Growth is needed to meet this crisis – there are 1.3 billion people under or unemployed with half a billion set to join the work force looking for employment in the next decade.

But the challenge faced by world leaders is how to ensure sustainable growth that delivers a balance in terms of economic, social and environmental outcomes. In other words, the growth has to be able to generate employment and greater equity while keeping humankind’s environmental foot print within sustainable boundaries for the sake of planet Earth.

UN Environment Program (UNEP) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) in concert with a wide range of partners have recently produced a study indicating that being in a transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy offers a great opportunity to address these multiple challenges.

The report, Transition to a Green Economy – Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication – suggests that investing 2 percent of global GDP in 10 key sectors can, with the right kinds of enabling public policies, grow the global economy and generate decent ‘green’ jobs – but without the shocks, inequities and environmental decline as inherent in the current economic models.

In the energy sector, furthermore, the report indicates that investing about one and a quarter percent of global GDP each year in energy efficiency and renewable energies could cut global primary energy demand by 9 percent by 2020 and close to 40 percent by 2050.

Savings on capital and fuel costs in power generation under a Green Economy scenario would average about US$760 billion a year between 2010 and 2050. Employment levels in the energy sector would be one-fifth higher than in a business as usual scenario as renewable energies take close to 30 percent of the share of primary global energy demand by mid-century and savings on energy.

Rational use of natural resources, by introducing waste management and the 3R approach are also ways to achieve green economy growth. Evidence from around the world indicates that this also creates enormous job opportunities.

Indonesia, as part of its commitment to sustainable development and in particular to voluntarily reducing CO2 emissions, is now making efforts to catalyze green jobs for young people through the office of the Vice-President and the Youth Ministry.

China aims to create several million jobs in afforestation and forest-based tourism over the coming years. China has also launched a green entrepreneurship initiative, specifically targeted at young people.

In Europe and the United States, investments in improved energy efficiency in buildings could generate an additional 2-3.5 million green jobs. The potential is much higher in developing countries.

Germany estimates that investments in clean technology including renewable energy and recycle facilities will generate more jobs than in the car industry by 2020.

In Brazil, some half a million people are already employed in recycling and waste management – the industry already generates returns of $2 billion a year, while avoiding 10 million tones of greenhouse gas emissions. A full recycling economy there would be worth 0.3 percent of GDP and could also provide much better quality jobs in the sector.

Next year’s Rio+20 meeting – 20 years after the Earth Summit of 1992 – offers an opportunity to scale-up and accelerate delivery of sustainable development goals in order to meet the needs and hopes of current and future generations.

The Tunza conference in Bandung, Indonesia, is the moment for children and young people to shape and sharpen their standpoints and importantly their leadership in the run up to Rio+20. The children and youth shall show the world that changing lifestyles and adapting sustainable consumption and production patterns are crucially important.

In doing so, the children and youth of the 21st century will strongly articulate to world leaders about their concerns and desire for future growth – as for a more sustainable world.

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