Working towards an intercontinental just transition: the necessity of integrating youth in policy making

In order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, it is essential that we transition to a circular economy. It is equally important that this transition happens in an inclusive and just manner.

Below, the Dutch Minister for the Environment, Stientje van Veldhoven, engages in a conversation with youth from the We Are Tomorrow Global Partnership (WAT-GP), in order to delve deeper into the following question: how can youth be effectively involved in the just transition towards a circular economy?

We Are Tomorrow Global Partnership (WAT-GP)
Bangladeshi partner of WAT-GP in action

Q: Why is circular economy an important topic for the youth from WAT-GP?

The WAT-GP believes that a circular transition is crucial, as the youth, the present as well as the future generation, will bear the consequences if we rely on a linear economy model. Through our global youth partnership, we aim to work together intercontinentally to influence policy makers. Our group recognizes resource-rich countries suffer under excessive resource exploitation in the current linear system. The most marginalized communities experience the worst impacts of environmental destruction. However, the circular economy presents an opportunity to mitigate these realities. That is why it is essential that our voices are heard in the international policy debate, and that we have a seat at the table when policies within the field of climate action, i.e. through a circular economy, are developed.

Q: Could you mention a few examples of how circularity is perceived by youth from your international network?

In Uganda, where unemployment amongst young people is already high, our WAT-GP partners stress the importance of using the transition to a circular economy as an opportunity to create employment. Education and training should prepare the future workforce for the jobs to come. And governments should invest in innovations led and created by young people, by providing capital for green start-ups. Our WAT-GP partners in Mexico made us aware that one country’s decisions may have consequences for the rest of the world. If the EU commits to higher renewable energy ambitions, the demand for minerals and rare metals located in developing countries will increase. Therefore, we call for policy mechanisms that inhibit irresponsible extraction of renewable energy resources elsewhere.

Q: Minister Stientje van Veldhoven, how do you perceive the comments made by WAT-GP?

“It’s essential to include young voices in the policy-making debate about the circular economy. It’s about their future! For me, that’s a major incentive. It’s the reason I went into politics, in fact. It’s all about ensuring that we meet the needs of the present generation, without threatening the ability of future generations to meet theirs. Our consumption and use of goods is far more than the earth can regenerate. This will only get worse with the growing and increasingly wealthy global population.

That’s why a circular economy is crucial. By keeping products, materials and rare metals in use – in the chain – we can contribute to the wellbeing of future generations.

And a circular economy is our secret weapon in beating climate change. Improved resource efficiency could reduce global carbon emissions by around 20%. That is why circular solutions need to be mainstreamed along international policy-making on climate action. Besides that, a circular economy holds great potential to enhance economic activity and create jobs, which will benefit future generations too. It’s imperative that this circular transition happens in a just and fair way, as stressed by the international youth of WAT-GP. That’s why it’s important to hear all voices, and certainly the young ones.”

Q: WAT-GP, could you elaborate a bit on how this international outlook relates to efforts closer to home, in the Netherlands?

Our youth network in the Netherlands indicated that young people no longer desire individual ownership, but rather wish for long-lasting products, which could facilitate the collective use of second ownership of products. The WAT-GP calls for the Netherlands to be one of the frontrunners in the transition towards a circular economy.

Q: What do you say to that, Minister?

“The Netherlands strives to be one of these frontrunners. That’s why it’s an honour to co-host the World Circular Economy Forum + Climate conference, together with The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra on 15 and 16 April.

Our country has high ambitions. A lot is happening here when it comes to the circular economy. We’re making new jeans from old jeans, new phones from old phones, new concrete from old concrete. But we need to scale up and speed up. This needs to happen at an international level. We need to make significant changes to the way we think about the global supply chain – the Netherlands therefore commits to working with partners and working towards a mandatory minimum percentage of plastics in new products. Such a mandatory minimum percentage will boost the market. We will need that kind of actions. I am very curious to hear the ideas of young people. That’s why I gave them a seat at the table at our National Circular Economy Conference last February. Moreover, youth from all over the world will be part of the WCEF+Climate. They will join me center stage to open the second day of the conference. We will engage in several dialogues and will hear from WAT-GP what benefits they see in a circular shift. Lastly, youth were part of the process leading towards the WCEF+Climate Action Statement, the outcome document of the conference. I am thrilled that the WAT-GP submitted an ambitious commitment to be included in the document, that will be available following the conference on 16 April. We look forward to continuing this collaboration after the conference.”

Q: So, WAT-GP, what action is needed from governments to include the perspective of young people in policy-making on the circular economy?

The WAT-GP believes that a transition to a circular economy provides an opportunity for policy makers around the world to eliminate not only waste, but also inequality. Our generation and those that will follow should be able to live in a world that is not deprived of natural resources and biodiversity, and be able to acquire jobs in sectors that have a future, no matter where they are in the world. So far, there has not been enough emphasis on the role youth can play in the transition towards a circular economy. We therefore urge the governments of our respective countries as well as international decision-making bodies to involve and consult us in the decision-making process. In other words, we seek out cooperation with local, national and international actors to ensure the active involvement of youth in assuring a just transition to a circular economy. After all, future generations will be subject to the change implemented today.

Q: Minister, do you agree?

“There’s a lot at stake – the futures of young generations. We need youth to be part of the solution. We need your fresh perspectives, innovative thinking, and creative ideas, in areas from production to new consumption behaviour. Think of “the sharing economy”, for example. I am very happy to hear that young people from all over the world are already contributing to a circular economy and I look forward to a dynamic discussion with them at the WCEF+Climate on 15 and 16 April and beyond.”

We Are Tomorrow Global Partnership (WAT-GP)
Group photo of WAT-GP’s South African partner