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Expert Exchange

Youth Empowerment for a Just Energy Transition

Colombia, Estonia, South Africa,

Wuppertal Institute,

On June 18, 2024, an expert exchange on “Youth Empowerment for a Just Energy Transition” convened specialists from Estonia, Colombia, and South Africa to discuss how best to empower young people to play a pivotal role in driving a just energy transition and phase-out of fossil fuels. As well as facilitating discussions on the most effective ways of involving young people in just energy transitions, the aim was to share best practices and recommendations for engaging this part of society.

Research insights

Ivan Sergejev, just transition process coordinator at the Estonian Ministry of Finance, opened the session by explaining how the European Union’s Just Transition Fund (JTF) is supporting Estonia, specifically the Ida-Virumaa region, due to its heavy reliance on the oil shale sector. With an ageing, declining, and primarily Russian-speaking population, the region faces significant challenges when it comes to communicating the just transition process. The region also faces myriad economic challenges, including a historic dependency on heavy industry. Efforts supported by the JTF focus on the social inclusion of various stakeholders, conducting public consultations, and fostering youth engagement. The 2021 Youth Climate Assembly highlighted the distinct priorities of the region’s young people, which led to increased representation and the formation of a new youth non-governmental organisation. A 2024 campaign engaged local young people further, emphasising their role in shaping the transition. The key lessons learned highlight the importance of actively involving and allocating resources to young people and thinking creatively about how to target them.

Nadia Combariza, co-executive director of POLEN Transiciones Justas, shared insights into the working mechanisms of the Colombian think tank, which aims to create a democratic, resilient, more equitable society by transforming the energy system; encouraging employment in renewable energy; involving senior and junior researchers, consultants, and support teams; and prioritising women and residents in the affected region. POLEN offers industry training and promotes inclusivity, using international and philanthropic funds. Its approach includes policy communication, the facilitation of social dialogues, and identifying challenges through pilot projects.

Finally, Edwin Hlangwani, a BRICS Young Scientist at the University of Johannesburg, highlighted that opinions differ on the just energy transition in South Africa, especially given the challenges of providing a consistent power supply. Here, young people express concerns about the lack of infrastructure and technical expertise, corruption (including misuse of investment funds), and the coal-dependent job market, leading to mistrust of the government. Effective communication is crucial to bridging the gap between government actions and youth perceptions. As the continent with the youngest population in the world, Africa is at the forefront of climate advocacy, with its young people driving policy reform, sustainability, and innovative technologies. There is significant investment in green projects and emerging technologies, but more skills training and community investment are needed, especially in rural areas.

Key takeaways

  • Engaging young people requires effort and creative thinking.
  • Young minds are key for developing post-fossil fuel alternatives in countries that are economically dependent on fossil fuels.
  • It’s not enough simply to reach out to young peopleresources must also be allocated to them.
  • Civil society organisations cannot compete with fossil fuel companies when it comes to salary offers, so passions and principles are central drivers in every action.
  • There is a record of successful youth-led green initiatives from which to take inspiration.


Ivan SergejevJust transition process coordinator at the Estonian Ministry of Finance—Youth Engagement in Setting Up a Just Transition in Ida-Virumaa – A Case Study

Nadia CombarizaCo-executive director of POLEN Transiciones Justas—The Role of Colombian Youth Researchers in Crafting Equitable Post-Fossil Futures

Edwin HlangwaniBRICS Young Scientist at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa—Beyond Rhetoric: Youth-led Solutions for a Sustainable and Just Energy Transition in Developing Nation

See the full presentations here:

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