COVID was a storm that the entire world weathered, but no two individuals experienced the storm in the same boat. Although the virus did not respect national borders, spreading like wildfire across the globe, there were factors like socioeconomic status and access to health care that meant that some individuals sailed through largely unscathed while others faced catastrophic losses.
While they were spared the worst of the physical ravages of the virus, one group that has been profoundly—albeit indirectly—impacted is young people. Suddenly unable to attend school, work, to socialize, or even exercise like they used to, the lives of young people have been severely interrupted.
Initial studies suggest that young people were disproportionately impacted by unemployment in 2020. Far from a temporary blip in what otherwise would be a bright future, what is concerning is that this setback could have permanent implications on their long-term earning power.
As we turn our attention from weathering the storm to building back better, many have pinned their hopes on a “green recovery,” using the systemic shock of COVID-19 as an opportunity to reset priorities in favor of environmental stewardship and social responsibility. But what if the post-pandemic world could be both green and inclusive—particularly for youth, who have a greater stake in the future?
Young, Green, and Eager to Work
Our research shows that this is precisely the future young people want for themselves. More than half of the 29,500 young people aged 15 to 39 we surveyed said that they aspired to work in the green economy, defined as activities that contribute to preserving or restoring the environment. The desire for green jobs was even higher in Asia Pacific, where 77 percent expressed the aspiration to join the green economy in the next 10 years.
The good news is that companies are increasingly recognizing the need to go green and are transforming their businesses accordingly. Based on the current levels of investment in areas such as decarbonizing the built environment and transitioning transport, our modeling estimates that 32.6 million new green jobs will be created by 2030 in just five of Asia Pacific’s leading economies: Australia, China, India, Indonesia, and Japan.
While these new jobs represent a 62 percent increase in the number of green jobs available to Asia Pacific’s aspiring young workforce, the reality is that more needs to be done to accelerate job creation in pursuit of a green transition. As it stands today, there are 665 million young people in the five countries we studied. In that context, the 32.6 million new jobs created—across all industries and at all levels—will address only 5 percent of the young population.
We face a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform the global economy and avert a generation-defining crisis.
Imagining an Inclusive Recovery
Whether these passionate and driven young people find their place in the green economy over the next decade depends on actions that companies take today. At the same time, companies also need new forms of talent and fresh ideas to achieve their ambitious sustainability goals. Hastening the arrival of the green economy and creating jobs for young people thus go hand in hand.
We face a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform the global economy and avert a generation-defining crisis. In this decade to deliver, it is imperative that young people—and other groups hit hardest by the pandemic—are part of the conversation. And what better way to secure the future than by harnessing the hopeful aspirations of those who will live to see the consequences of their actions? Companies that invite young people to re-imagine the possibilities of a post-pandemic world with them put themselves in position to thrive in the green economy.