Power and renewables

Mobilizing the younger generation: Influence

In the final episode of the twelfth DNV Talks Energy podcast series, hosted by Mathias Steck, Service Area Manager for Renewables Northern Europe at DNV, we explore the involvement of young people in decision-making and innovation, the skills needed to drive the clean energy transition forward, and the role companies need to play to encourage young people into the sector.

Series twelve of the Talks Energy podcast has focused on the human facets of the energy transition. Throughout this series we’ve spoken with a range of experts to explore the integral role people will play in driving the energy transition forward and delved into the ways in which people and communities are impacted by the move to a clean energy future.



In this episode, host Mathias Steck, Service Area Manager for Renewables Northern Europe at DNV, is joined by Vladislav Kaim, a member of the UN Secretary-General's Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, to discuss the importance of hearing and understanding the views of young people when it comes to climate discussions, and the need for companies to be actively involved in the creation of the educational pathways necessary for future jobs in the clean energy sector.

Read the transcription of this episode here

Transcript:
Transcript:

MATHIAS STECK     Hello and welcome to the 12th series of the DNV Talks Energy podcast. I'm your host, Mathias Steck. So far in the series, we have taken a look at the many ways in which the energy transition impacts people's lives and the ways people are part of the change. In this final episode, we continue our focus on those who will fly the flag for sustainability long into the future: young people. In last week's episode, we learnt about routes into the industry for students and young people. And in this episode, we look at the active role they are playing in communicating the global warming crisis and how they are putting themselves at the centre of the solution.

With me to discuss this topic is Vladislav Kaim, a member of the UN Secretary-General's Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, which seeks to amplify youth voices and engage young people in climate action. Drawing on his own experience, Vladislav talks about what inspired him to take action and how young people around the world are doing the same. We hope you enjoy the episode.

Vladislav, many thanks for joining me today. For the benefit of our listeners, could you give us an introduction of yourself, your role at the UN Youth Advisory on Climate Change and what the organization is focused on?

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VLADISLAV KAIM     Thank you very much, Mathias, first and foremost for the invitation. It's an honour to be here. I'm Vladislav Kaim. I am from the Republic of Moldova. I'm 26 years old and I am an economist by education. In my current capacity, I am serving as a member of the inaugural UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change and the mandate that we have in the Youth Advisory Group - me and other six colleagues of mine who make part of it – was, first and foremost, in 2020 and 2021, to help the UN Secretary-General to implement his climate strategy, adding proper youth voice and youth sounding board to it, and using that also to hold the other parts of the UN system to account with that regard. In 2022, for the remaining part of our mandate, we are focused first and foremost on bringing in there, to the public and to the wider youth constituencies and communities, priorities that the secretary general outlined in his speech to the General Assembly in January and to help him build momentum for ambitious and absolutely needed, as the recent IPCC reports show, climate action of COP27, regardless of how challenging the international environment has recently become.

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MATHIAS STECK     So Vladislav, today we'll explore how young people are making a difference when it comes to climate change. But first, I'm really interested to know about your own journey. What inspired you to pursue the career you have and to take action?

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VLADISLAV KAIM     My journey in climate action and sustainability ‘writ large’ started around when I was 15, 16 years old through activism, through storytelling, around the situation of the River Dniester basin. For the record, the river Dniester is one of the two greatest rivers in the Republic of Moldova, and it is supplying 80 percent of the freshwater for my hometown of Chișinău, which is also the capital city of the Republic of Moldova. The situation there has been deteriorating, especially with regards to biodiversity, for quite a while.

In the recent years, we have also witnessed that the deterioration has spread to disputes with regards to building upstream hydroelectric plants and dams, which is having also a severe downstream impact on the Republic of Moldova. But back then, it was the issues related to biodiversity in the river basin that spurred my work in this regard. And then later, when I already came to the university for my bachelor studies, I already dived in more on the practical side of promotion of what were, back then, still MDGs. This was October 2014, so it was their tail end and the year before the adoption of SDGs and, together with two colleagues of mine at the time, we came to co-found one of the first youth communities with cooperatives in the region of former Soviet countries, that is particularly focused on youth-led solutions for the SDGs and spreading awareness about them, called SDG International Youth Forum, and it’s a forum that is living up until today. So this is basically what started and spurred my idea to go further into this field.

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MATHIAS STECK     UN Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change. That name somehow implies the notion that different generations may look and contribute to climate change differently. What do you think young people bring to the climate change challenge rather than older generations would or could?

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VLADISLAV KAIM     First and foremost, I would like to say that the appearance of such a body as the UN Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change has been long overdue. I have been part of the cohort that helped organize the first UN Youth Climate Summit back in 2019 in New York, and already then it was absolutely clear that the time is ripe for an upgrade, and it is unfortunate that the UN as a system still is behind us on this, and it took to have such a great champion of the Youth cause in the Secretary-General's own person to insist and press to go on with that with the support of their climate team and the UN Youth envoy. With regards to what the youth in general brings to the table when it comes to the climate discussions in the UN that the previous generations didn't have is, first of all, the political will to act. The youth has a different generational perception of societal and economic trade-offs with regards to climate policies that unfortunately previous generations have been blind to, and we are ready to provide the input that reflects those values and we are ready to stand our ground for this. And we are demonstrating that there are certain non-negotiable principles of political action with regards to climate action that we will not back down from, particularly with regards to following the best available climate science when formulating the policies and not looking for excuses in this regard.

Secondly, no less important is that what the youth brings is a different kind of expertise than is usually circulating amongst the circles that are representing the previous generations. And just because it's different, it unfortunately still is being treated at a certain discount because young professionals are still having a hard time to practically influence climate policies, because youth in general in this regard is perceived as at a discount, as sort of implicit assumption of lacking experience. But it is a pity because, actually, the expertise that we bring is quite of a different qualitative kind, and it incorporates many of those views and voices that were disregarded in the prior periods of formulating climate action where it would have been, in fact, easier to formulate ambitious climate policies. And here I'm talking, for example, about the perspectives brought by indigenous knowledge, by higher representation of marginalized communities and women. It's been heartening to see many more of the young colleagues, professionals from the categories that I have mentioned, being represented on a wider scale in the spaces than before, and indeed brings beneficial practical impacts to the way that senior policy people think about various aspects of climate policymaking.

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MATHIAS STECK     So from your work with the UN, do you have some specific examples in what ways young people support the move towards cleaner energy production and greater energy efficiency?

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VLADISLAV KAIM     Well, to not sound selfish, I will first and foremost bring my own example in this regard. Before I came to the Youth Advisory Group, there was little to no discussion and actual push for a mainstreaming of green jobs in the context of climate action. We were helping in a small capacity the International Labour Organization the year before that and the Secretary General's Office to launch the Climate Action for Jobs initiative that outlined the participation of 46 countries on cooperation for strategies on how to create green jobs, especially in clean energy. But as a matter of wider discussion and wider recognition amongst the member States, it came only through the engagement that I had with the Secretary-General, and he started mainstreaming this topic further, including within the UN system, but not only. And for example, we can also see that green jobs as a matter of a Just Transition discussion has been advanced by youth as an agenda point quite a lot, especially at many national levels. For example, at COP26, we have heard a lot about the agreement for Just Transition that was signed for South Africa. I mean, ultimately, that type of agreement, if implemented well, it is having youth as the main engine of it and the main beneficiary of it by virtue of how dire of a need there is in Just Transition in South Africa, but also the situation with the unemployment amongst youth.

Secondly, we have seen at COP26, for example, that there was a whole Youth Day dedicated to our efforts and our advocacy because it demonstrates the power of youth as a constituency. Even formal bodies of the UNFCCC like, for example, the one that is related to Technology Mechanism, already incorporate representatives of the youth constituency to the UNFCCC on the formal scale. And we, of course, do not go here also into other aspects on the national level, like, for example, many young groups who were pursuing legal action for the governments to be obliged to consider a duty of care towards future generations in their climate policies. We have the example of a successful ruling of the German Federal Constitutional Court last year, and we have also an unfortunate example of the Australian High Court of Appeals that unfortunately threw that lawsuit out. But it also shows that youth are very versatile in the ways that they achieve their successes in higher offices, so to speak.

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MATHIAS STECK     So you just mentioned your own expertise and focus was, in the UN Advisory Group, to ensure green jobs for young people, but what about companies? How are companies engaging with students, young entrepreneurs and activists and offering vital jobs in the sector?

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VLADISLAV KAIM     I think that companies, if I'm completely honest, they’re just like the multilateral system. They are little bit still late to the party when it comes to the clear pathways to green jobs for students. We have seen like, for example, the 16th Conference of Youth that was preceding COP26, for the first time ever, to be a green jobs fair, which is a step in the right direction. We need representatives of companies to go out there first and foremost and promote themselves from the point of view of their green careers and careers with purpose, because youth today, coming out of COVID, are battling an intersection of anxieties, those relating to anxieties about their health, about their material well-being, but also about having a career with purpose, particularly a career that brings benefits to the planet. And so first appeal here, what I would say is to see more companies that are going out there and pitching, proposing themselves in this way. The more events like this we would see around the world, especially in the regions where the needs for Just Transition are the most acute, the better it will be.

Secondly, I would like to see more – and I have seen from my interactions a certain willingness to move in that direction – is to also take a bigger responsibility for those educational pathways that ultimately create skills that can be converted into green jobs. Because if we are talking about companies being responsible stakeholders in this regard, in those three letters E S and G, being actively involved in creation of the curricula for necessary skills for green jobs is a part of all three letters in the abbreviation. And so, for example, I'm looking forward to see companies being more involved not only at the level of tertiary educational programmes, but also in vocational education. We have to be mindful of the fact that many jobs that we are talking about, that we consider green, they require very specific technical qualifications that are primarily in the direction of vocational education. That is also the case for the clean energy sector as well. But we also see in other spheres of energy industry that it’s becoming even more acute. Like, for example, in Germany, the public demand for heat pumps has recently intensified because there is talk about finally and abruptly renouncing Russian gas. But many companies simply cannot meet the demand by virtue of the fact that there is such an acute shortage of skilled technicians.

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MATHIAS STECK     So we discussed about how to get young people into the industry, but the UN is even going a step further and talks about the role of young people in demonstrating what bold leadership looks like. Do you have an example of the ways in which young people have made a decisive impact on policy or innovation, for example?

Transcript:

VLADISLAV KAIM     Well, absolutely. If we are talking about the impact made at the UN level, one should look no further than to the Our Common Agenda report that was published by the current president of the General Assembly earlier at the beginning of this year, which essentially outlined a wholesale reform of the UN architecture as far as the youth engagement is concerned. For the first time, we will see that there will be a UN Youth Office established that is essentially supposed to have the mandate of a proper UN agency, instead of the Office of Youth Envoy, as it is right now. And this is a huge victory for young people who are engaged in various civil society campaigns within the UN to promote this notion that accountability of the multilateral system towards the youth and future generations and the appointment of an Envoy for Future Generations, that is also put in the report, is something that is absolutely paramount to the legitimacy of the UN as a whole.

Even though it is an intergovernmental organization, of course, the United Nations can be successful only if it also has the support of united people and especially of united youth, and the fact that many member states and UN executives recognize that the time has come to move to a higher level of youth engagement than is currently prescribed officially at the UN level is ripe. It is. We owe this to a persistent and relentless youth engagement throughout these years on multiple levels.

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MATHIAS STECK     So in the previous episode, I have talked to Meredith Adler, and Meredith is the Executive Director for an organization called Student Energy. She told us about some of the barriers preventing young people from entering the clean energy industry. What is your view on this and what do you think is the solution?

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VLADISLAV KAIM     Well, first and foremost, I would like to mention that Meredith is a person who, without any exaggeration, is a larger than life figure for youth who are engaging in the clean energy industry and clean energy policy and clean energy advocacy. One can look no further than her successful work on establishing the UN Energy Compact on Youth, that essentially aims to mobilize 150 million dollars across ten years for youth-led energy projects, and I think this is one of the greatest contributions that she has provided because it ultimately tackles the core of the main problem of youth engagement in clean energy. And this is the lack of initial support, financial capacity and such with the perspective of scalability for those who might want to see themselves in careers in green jobs, long term, not only as employees but also as entrepreneurs and innovators, because that space is of a great perspective regardless of where we look: Global North, Global South, the specializations of innovation that youth is demonstrating might be different, but the potential and the impact are quite head-to-head with one another.

I also am looking forward to seeing how the solutions that are outlined to the problems that she mentioned covered the fact that ultimately engaging in clean energy jobs and finding a foothold there still, oftentimes, is pumping into the privilege of having a tertiary education, and there should be a more significant and more meaningful recognition of the qualifications obtained in vocational education track, but also in non-formal and informal education tracks, especially when we talk about our colleagues and youngsters from some of the sub regions of the Global South; here I’m particularly thinking about sub-Saharan Africa. Because in certain contexts, the formal educational systems are simply not there; yet that does not mean that there are no skills that are good to apply to green jobs there, and they deserve to be valorized. And this is a problem that we also helped Student Energy tackle at various levels. And we're really hoping that this is something that we will continue working on because the amount of work that is still there is huge. And education in this regard is also going to be one of the topics of the Sustainable Energy for All forum that is going to be happening in May in Kigali and will definitely be raised.

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MATHIAS STECK     So let's just imagine that a young talent is asking you how he or she can best contribute to the clean energy industry. What skills would you say are most needed there at the moment, and how could these young people place themselves best to address these needs?

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VLADISLAV KAIM     First and foremost, I would identify one hard skill without which a person probably cannot move forward is the ability to quickly analyze and interpret data as well as visualize it. We are living in a world where there is an abundance of data. In fact, more data worldwide has been created in the last five years than in the whole living humanity before that. But what is needed more and better is the ability to contextualize that data. And with climate, the clean energy policies or within climate and green energy businesses, the ability to act based on evidence is crucial. And this is a capacity that each young person who is entering the sector must be able to augment. And each company that is taking such a young person on board should also commit to provide a path to continuously upgrade their skills in this regard.

One soft skill that I would emphasize that is of extreme importance for people entering the clean energy sector is the adaptability and agility in terms of how they look at their career paths and the tasks that they are managing. Because not only we are entering into the world of work that has significantly been affected by the COVID pandemic - and of course, there is the megatrend of climate change - but also we are entering during a megatrend of change in work environment habits. Not only we will change many more jobs throughout our career, than the people of previous generations, but also we will change careers themselves. And the ability to have this open mind and adapt to the circumstances, but also being able to rely in being successfully adapted to these realities through the investments that the companies themselves would make in the employees, particularly in their lifelong learning, would be a crucial asset.

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MATHIAS STECK     So staying with young people, but also going back to one point you made earlier where you said something about the importance of diversity, how important is it for the energy industry and what benefits could the energy industry take away from engaging with a diverse range of people, including young people and those from a range of ethnic backgrounds?

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VLADISLAV KAIM     Well, first and foremost, I think it's important to emphasize that when we're talking about diversity, it's something that straddles way beyond ethnic backgrounds. We also talk about gender diversity, and we also talk about the acceptance of indigenous knowledge. And we are also talking about integrating a better class perspective into that. But ultimately the main benefit for the clean energy industry actors in being mindful of those dynamics is, first and foremost, having a richer, much richer in fact, body of evidence, which is much less tainted with the usual biases we can imagine when making important business decisions, especially in the regions where these decisions can be extremely sensitive with regards to the fate of local communities, their customs, way of living, but also for regional economies. And also a company that is integrating such a perspective meaningfully is also going to be rewarded with a much better prepared workforce, with the ability to hold human capital that is coming and contributing from extremely different sources and allowing the company to accommodate a much greater share of perspectives than their competitors.

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MATHIAS STECK     So let's fast forward for about 10 years from now, how do you think we will know whether the young people of today have been listened to and properly engaged with over climate change?

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VLADISLAV KAIM     Well, there are two dimensions to the question. First one relates to the participation in the highest level of decision-making, both in C-suites, but also in national legislatures executives or in the multilateral system. If we see that the share of representatives of my generation in said bodies, by that time, is still less than a third of the overall representation, of which I hope there will be at least a half would come from underprivileged backgrounds, then we can say that unfortunately, that is still not happening yet. If we are beyond that mark, I am definitely sure that we will be on the right track because, as I said, the diversity of views and expertise and angles of expertise is a competitive advantage. And in our race to not overshoot above 1.5 degrees, this is a competitive advantage we simply cannot pass up.

And the second, even more important, moment – an indicator in terms of policy is whether the companies and countries have meaningfully taken on board what is written in the IPCC reports, how much their targets are actually aligned to the best available science. This will be a huge canary in the coal mine for us because as youth, we have the most complete understanding of their consequences, that we are going to live with, after all, if these institutions are treating the best science available on climate change lightly.

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MATHIAS STECK     Many thanks for your time today, Vladislav. It was a pleasure listening to your deep insights and it was great talking to you. It's been fascinating to hear the ways in which young people are making an impact on policy and innovation, how the energy industry can benefit from a diverse workforce, and how companies can help young people gain the skills needed to drive the energy transition forward. We have come to the end of our eight-part series, but we have learnt so much about the human impact on the energy transition and how decarbonization cannot be achieved through technological innovation alone. Each of our guests have spoken about the people-centric solutions and the more inclusive approach that's needed to accelerate efforts to decarbonize and given us some interesting insights into the human facets of the energy transition.

To hear more podcasts in the series, please visit dnv.com/talksenergy and look out for the next series of Talks Energy later in the year.

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