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A possible new global agreement on climate change will be discussed this December in Paris. Over 190 nations will be represented at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); an event that has been described by many as the “largest diplomatic event ever hosted by France and one of the largest climate conferences ever organized[1].  At this global event, France is expected to host over 40,000 participants and delegates from around the world.

COP 21 is a very unique climate conference, not only because of its location but also in terms of its agenda. For the first time ever since the inauguration of the UNFCCC on the 21st of March 1994, each country is expected to announce its contribution towards reducing the impact of climate change and the report will be made available to the general public before the official commencement of the conference. Another highlight of the climate conference will be the mobilization of the ‘ambitious’ green climate fund of $100 billion per year by developed countries to assist developing countries in fighting climate change; the money is to be sourced from private and public agencies, from 2020.

While the main focus of the conference will be to devise a new international consensus on climate, with emphasis on how the world could keep global warming below 2°C; as always, climate negotiators would grapple and struggle with balancing the global climate concerns with the social and economic concerns in their respective countries.

To some, one such social and economic concern should be the issue of the global rate of unemployment, especially among the youth. They think that reducing global emission vs. reducing global unemployment should dominate the climate negotiation. To others, focus should be solely on reducing global emission. But when one thinks in terms of mainstreaming social issues into climate change issues, it should be easy to see that what the world needs is an inclusive climate negotiation in Paris.

According to the International Labor Organization’s (ILO), Global Employment Trends, 74.8 million youths between the ages 15-24 were unemployed in 2011, which represents an increase of 4 million since 2007. ILO report warns that the ‘World faces a 600 million jobs challenge’. The report further stresses that young people are nearly three times as likely as adults to be unemployed[2].

Findings have shown that humans can adapt to the impacts of climate change, but societal issues like the growing rates of unemployment could hardly be resolved by adaptation measures. Science must begin to speak to policy, and policy must respond to science. It is the sustained synergy of action of this type that would resolve our many challenges.

The disconnect between science and society must be addressed in Paris. It should bother us that funding for research keeps growing with little to show for it in terms of real human capacity development, and sustainable job creation.  In Africa, there are more PhDs today than we had 10 years ago, but are there more jobs? We seem to have prioritized post-doctoral positions and internships, at the expense of creating real jobs. Shouldn’t we be concerned that we are gradually drifting towards becoming a jobless society full of ‘jobless intellectuals’, with impeccable academic qualifications? Yes, we must reduce emissions, but we must also reduce unemployment. Climate change is a threat to our collective existence but producing ‘jobless intellectuals’ could even be far more dangerous.

The world, and Africa in particular, must seek a way of mainstreaming youth unemployment into climate negotiations; climate change presents an opportunity for Africa to be more innovative with the way we do our science. If truth must be told, our science is gradually becoming weak. It is becoming weak because it could barely provide real solutions to real societal problems. We must rethink the role of science to society.  For Africans, the road to Paris may be paced with good intentions, but African negotiators must be realistic and pragmatic; they must not pretend as if the problems are not there. It may not sound too scientific to ask the question: How do we mainstream climate threats into addressing youth unemployment in Africa? But the Green Climate Fund has some answers in the opportunities that the green economy presents.

According to the South African Green Economy Modelling Report (SAGEM)[3], “prioritizing investments in the energy sector will maximize the employment creation potential of a green economy”. The modelling report further states that “If the investments are spread equally across all sectors, then the agriculture sector will deliver the highest employment creation potential”. And what is true for South Africa could be true for most countries in sub-Saharan Africa. For example, the African Economic Outlook (AEO) report of 2014 corroborates these findings. AEO reveals that the agriculture sector “creates 80% to 90% employment in countries like Burundi, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Guinea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Zambia, and Malawi”[4]. And more real jobs are possible when one takes the entire agro-food value chain into consideration.  In Paris, it will be good to see African negotiators speaking from the perspective of the green economy and the energy-food-water nexus in relation to climate change, and the opportunity this portends for our continent.

There are enormous opportunities in the green economy space, Africa must explore this space. The Africa’s 2063 agenda suggests that we must begin to do things differently in order to secure our future.  To put it more succinctly, it says: We must adopt “A global strategy to optimize the use of Africa’s resources for the benefits of all Africans”.

There seems to be an emerging consensus on the significance and the importance of the Green Economy, as a veritable innovation in reducing not only emissions but also the rate of unemployment. Therefore, what is needed is to intensify investment in green economy research. Paris must emphasize the need for the world to address the ‘double threats’ of global warming and global unemployment.

More importantly, Africa must take a position on this matter. This becomes necessary because, as of this moment, Africa’s greatest resources are the teeming population of its youths. But 70% of this youthful population is without jobs.

It is worth mentioning, that the term ‘capacity building’ must be redefined, because it has been misused and abused, its real definition has been rubbished by political rhetoric, and its importance has been embellished in our sloganeering of ‘workshops and seminars’. Capacity building should be holistic, it should transcend skills enhancement, and translates to real jobs and stable employment.

An ILO research[5] on global youth unemployment reveals that South Africa rates higher in regional average youth unemployment. It further shows that in 2012, over 50 percent of young people in the labour force are jobless in the first three quarters in South Africa. This statistic is even worse for some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, in 2008 Namibia was stated to have 58.9% while Lesotho grappled with 34.4% in the same year. This situation is not likely to get better if deliberate and pragmatic approaches are not embarked on.

Ours is indeed a generation at risk. And it is a ‘double risk’- but the climate risk and the job risk could be addressed simultaneously. And this is what Paris should strive towards achieving. Paris should prioritize the green economy. A joint study[6] on the job opportunities for South Africans in the green economy conducted by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), and the Trade Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS), revealed that in 2011 it would have been possible to create an “estimated 98,000 jobs in the short term (2011-2012), 255,000 in the medium term (2013-2017) and 462,000 employment opportunities in the long term (2018-2026)”. Although, these values represent projections, but they signal the potentials and opportunities embedded in the green economy sector.

Green economy has the dual-advantages of reducing emission, and unemployment. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) affirms that green jobs contribute “directly to preserving or enhancing environmental quality in a sustainable low-carbon economy; protect ecosystems and biodiversity; reduce energy, materials, and water consumption through high efficiency strategies; de-carbonize the economy; and minimize or altogether avoid generation of all forms of waste and pollution”

I would advocate that African government should declare ‘a state of emergency’ on youth unemployment, just as the world has done for climate change, and this should be boldly enshrined in its post-2015 agenda. I would also advocate for a certain percentage of the ‘green climate fund’ to be set aside for ‘deliberate action’ in combating youth unemployment in Africa through the creation of green jobs.

At the risk of diminishing the import of the statement made recently by the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, on Africa and the state of its youthful population, I will quote him verbatim: Of the 1.8 billion young people worldwide, nine out of 10 of them live in least developed countries, and many in Africa…. And the number of young Africans aged 15-24 is set to double by 2045. By harnessing its demographic dividend, the African continent could add up to $500 billion per year to its economy, for as many as 30 years”[7]

As the world gathers in Paris one could only hope that the words of Ban Ki-Moon would serve as a food for thought for African leaders, and its climate negotiators.

[2] Global Employment Trends 2012: World faces a 600 million jobs challenge, warns ILO–en/index.htm

[5] Global Youth Unemployment Trends – a generation at risk–en/index.htm

[7] ‘Give young people decent jobs and they will create a better future’ – UN chief

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