January saw a number of workshops and webinars on youth, women, and opportunities and the challenges they face in the energy and energy transition sectors.
Two remarkable workshops that were held, both virtual; were the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)11 Assembly Youth Forum held from January 10-14 2021 and the Vienna Energy Forum Virtual Series on Youth, Women and Equity held on January 12 and 13, 2021.
The IRENA Youth Forum
The IRENA Youth Forum was attended by more than 400 youth participants from 100 countries under the theme “Promoting an Inclusive and Just Energy Transition”.
In opening the forum, the IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera remarked, “We must act today to ensure the world we leave to our children and grandchildren is prosperous, equitable and sustainable.”
To do justice to the theme, the forum was divided into three working groups, which dealt with different key issues and social challenges in the energy sector.
The first working group tackled the role of renewables in addressing key social challenges, including in humanitarian and health sectors. We saw the benefits of clean cooking solutions in refugee camps in Rwanda and Jordan. Clean cooking solutions lifts pressure of refugees depending on forest resources to cook. In some host communities, for example with Burundi refugees in Tanzania, the host government, that is the government of Tanzania, complained of refugees cutting down trees for firewood and by so doing depleting the national tree cover!
In the second working group, creating opportunities for youth in the energy transition by tackling challenges related to gender equality, job creation and education was the area of focus. The youth were urged to move from campaign strategies to implementation phase, to demonstrate their readiness to engage in the energy sector by actually getting actively involved in the sector and taking up space be it in the workforce or through innovation and invention.
The third working group promoted youth voices and work, such as community engagement, research and advocacy on renewable energy. We saw the need for more organized and lean meetings to maximize forum potential and the need for inclusion of minorities and marginalized groups in decision making.
The forum saw a heavy representation of youth from the Global South with the Global North being significantly under-represented.
The Vienna Energy Forum
This workshop was dedicated to discussing bold strategies to boost the inclusion of both youth and women in the energy space and transition. The forum explored the power of women and youth in advancing the clean energy transition.
United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)’s Tareq Emtairah opened the forum by reminding participants of the need for Covid-19 recovery plans to be green and inclusive, now, more than ever.
Covid-19 adversely affected youths in the energy sector as most are young professionals and in entry level jobs and were the first to be cut off when businesses were hit. Youths in the oil and gas industry were also affected by the decrease in demand for oil and gas leading to job loss.
Funding, technical capacity, education and training are some of the common challenges that hinder youth participation in the energy transition.
For youth inclusion and transition into the energy sector, education and training opportunities are crucial to equip the youth with the necessary skills to work in energy. Skilling, re-skilling, early introduction, career development and training are some examples of sustainable energy literacy steps key to engaging women and youth in opportunities in the energy sector.
Furthermore, on the topic of education, energy access is crucial to support online learning especially during the Covid-19 crisis which has disrupted traditional forms of learning. Access to reliable energy is needed for sustainable learning and digitalization.
Investing in innovation tackles the challenge faced by youth start-ups and ventures. Innovation in itself tackles the problem of lack of capital faced commonly by the youth. The innovations that are desirable are simple, affordable, durable, easy to use and maintain, eco-friendly, money-saving and life changing.
Encouraging youth start-ups through investing in their innovations is a way to empower youth transition in the energy sector. Policies should also be encouraging to youth businesses and success celebrated to encourage more youth to join the energy workforce.
Local engagement and inclusion are highly encouraged to include women and youth in the energy transition. It is important to make youth and women aware of the current opportunities in the energy sector to fully participate in them.
Regarding decision making in energy matters, youth and women inclusion is crucial as the energy and gender nexus is based on the recognition of the differentiated needs and priorities of women and youth, with regards to energy stemming from gendered and societal roles in Africa.
Connecting and networking youth and women to energy experts and competences can also accelerate energy transition.
All in all, it is necessary to take actions now that lead to sustainable development in energy, such actions as education and training, private-public partnerships and policy development around sustainable energy development.
With humanitarianism, reliable energy is going to be crucial to supply constant electricity for the maintenance of cold chains necessary for Covid-19 vaccine distribution and storage. Everybody’s lives; men, women, old, children and youth; will depend significantly on successful vaccination against the coronavirus.
The two forums were very instrumental in empowering and enlightening youth and women about the opportunities and possibilities present in the energy transition. No gesture is ever too small to make an impact, and just making aware opportunities in the energy transition goes so far as tackling challenges such as job and livelihood loss that so many youth, women and families face during this energy transition period. Such workshops are key in ensuring that no one is left behind as the world transitions into the green economy.