Greener Future project, funded by the European Union, focuses on green jobs and skills through research, mapping and training and is spearheaded by a consortium comprising four organisations: Alianza por la Solidaridad – ActionAid (Spain), Volonteurope (Belgium), ActionAid Denmark (Denmark), and WeWorld (Italy). The project has three primary objectives: firstly, to identify and assess existing opportunities and sustainable initiatives throughout Europe; secondly, to enhance the capabilities of European organisations collaborating with youth and other key stakeholders, thereby strengthening youth employment via training and exchange of experiences; and thirdly, to implement and evaluate training and support modules as part of the project’s pilot initiatives for youth to have access to green jobs or develop sustainable and social initiatives. Between 21-22 September, Volonteurope organised two training modules and one national exchange to enhance CSOs capacities and enrich the discussion around green agenda. During the national exchange, we were delighted to joined by Joop Hazenber, an EU lobbyist who is the author of “The Climate Action Guide”.

On the first day, we engaged with participants in a thought-provoking discussion about their foremost concerns regarding the climate crisis. Among the diverse array of concerns voiced, a common thread emerged. Many participants were concerned about the perceived superiority of human needs and desires over the health of our planet. Consumerism and climate justice were central to this discourse, highlighting the pressing need for a shift in our consumption patterns and a more equitable distribution of environmental burdens and benefits. The devastating consequences of climate change, such as desertification, drought, and water contamination, were also raised as critical issues, underscoring the urgent need for sustainable resource management. Furthermore, participants voiced concerns about the global divide in climate responsibility, as well as the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and the alarming decline in Arctic ice levels. Additionally, migration driven by climate change and the pervasive lack of awareness about these issues were highlighted as critical challenges to address in our pursuit of a greener future.

Climate justice, as articulated by our participants, is a multifaceted concept that encompasses a range of perspectives and concerns. First and foremost, it involves the preservation of traditional knowledge, especially that of indigenous and local communities, which holds valuable insights into sustainable practices and planet-saving wisdom. Additionally, climate justice entails the promotion of sustainable policies tailored to support small-scale green initiatives. This approach recognises the crucial role played by grassroots efforts in addressing climate change. Economic struggles were identified as a critical aspect of climate justice, acknowledging that vulnerable communities often bear a disproportionate burden in the face of environmental challenges. Climate inequality, both at a global scale and within nations, was also highlighted as a central concern, underlining the urgency of achieving equitable solutions that do not exacerbate existing disparities.

The discussion emphasised the stark disparities between developed and developing countries in coping with the effects of climate change, emphasising the need for global cooperation and support for vulnerable regions. Additionally, participants expressed deep concern about pollution affecting indigenous communities due to mining and resource extraction activities, underscoring the importance of responsible and inclusive resource management practices.

Furthermore, climate justice extends to the realm of post-disaster reconstruction projects, with a strong call for an equitable distribution of resources and opportunities to rebuild and recover. Moreover, participants stressed the imperative of reducing reliance on fossil fuels and advocated for subsidies to facilitate this transition, making it accessible to all. Participants stressed the promotion of public transportation as a key strategy to reduce emissions and enhance accessibility to sustainable mobility options. Recognising that climate solutions should consider regional differences, participants emphasised the need to address the unique challenges faced by mainland and outermost European regions. This underscores the importance of tailoring strategies to ensure a just transition for all. Lastly, the discussion highlighted the importance of creating and maintaining wildlife sanctuaries and natural protected areas. These spaces not only contribute to biodiversity conservation but also provide opportunities for job creation in wildlife protection and research. Furthermore, investments in scientific research and ocean conservation were deemed essential to achieving climate justice and securing a sustainable future for our planet.

In the green jobs discussion, the vast majority of participants emphasised that companies like Tesla do not genuinely offer green jobs nor contribute to a just transition. This sentiment primarily arises from the perception that Tesla prioritises profit and sells its electric vehicles to wealthier individuals. Some participants even mentioned that electric car manufacturers encourage their employees to purchase electric vehicles, regardless of whether they genuinely need them for daily commuting. Moreover, there were concerns raised about the extractive nature of car production, resulting in precarious working conditions for factory employees and, notably, perpetuating a neo-colonial approach during the raw material mining process in Africa and other parts of the world. Participants also highlighted the challenges associated with public transportation in Southern Europe, citing issues such as inadequate train connectivity and the privatisation of public transportation services, which have hindered accessibility and affordability. Lastly, taxation policies in Europe, particularly those affecting air travel, were brought to the forefront. Many participants expressed concerns about the financial burden placed on individuals, particularly those living on islands, who may struggle to afford air travel. Some participants suggested implementing reduced prices for residents of outer islands, drawing attention to the need for more equitable policies to address these disparities.

During the same discussion, participants concurred that agroecological farms predominantly offer the potential for creating green jobs. However, they acknowledged that there can be environmental challenges associated with the transportation of produce from these farms to large cities, leading to increased carbon emissions. Beyond the environmental impact, this transportation can also result in higher prices for consumers, affecting both producers and local communities. Nevertheless, it was noted that the primary intention behind agroecological farming is to cater to local communities, aiming to provide them with access to fresh and sustainable produce. Furthermore, participants highlighted the role of agroecological farming in promoting the countryside and protecting soil health. Unlike conventional farming practices that may harm the soil, agroecological approaches are designed to preserve and enhance soil quality while fostering sustainable rural communities.

On the second day, participants envisioned various roles for themselves in advancing a sustainable and just transition. They expressed a commitment to supporting companies in adopting eco-friendly practices, recognising the pivotal role businesses play in shaping environmental outcomes. Moreover, they advocated for an open call for participation to mobilise youth and society at large to harness collective efforts towards sustainable change. Many saw themselves as actively engaging with young people through research and education with an aim to empower the next generation with knowledge and tools for positive environmental impact. Participants also identified themselves as activists and promoters of public debates who are dedicated to raising awareness about critical environmental issues. They viewed themselves as advocates, both in the academic and public spheres, who strive to influence policies that align with sustainability goals. Furthermore, they emphasised the importance of meticulous planning and collaboration among stakeholders while positioning themselves as facilitators in the journey towards a greener and more equitable future.

One of the most pressing challenges to achieving a sustainable and just transition, as highlighted by our participants, lies in the lack of citizen engagement and civic participation. This deficit in active involvement and collective action hinders the momentum necessary to drive meaningful change. Furthermore, there is a recognized education gap that needs to be addressed, as many individuals may not fully comprehend the complexities and urgency of environmental issues. The concern for leaving segments of the population behind in this transition is also paramount which emphasises the importance of inclusivity and equity. Additionally, the prevalence of greenwashing practices by big corporations and companies undermines genuine sustainability efforts. The relentless march of time, coupled with the deteriorating environmental situation, compounds the challenge and demands swift action. Implementing the necessary measures and crafting coherent policies aimed at encouraging the transition to a greener future emerge as pivotal but intricate tasks that require collaborative effort and commitment to overcome these obstacles.

In contemplating the future economic pursuits of young people through the lens of a green job agenda, participants in our discussion articulated a multifaceted vision that encompasses both innovative projects and programs, as well as the recognition of associated challenges and opportunities. One prominent theme that emerged was the desire to encourage a return to nature, as participants proposed initiatives aimed at transitioning from urban to rural settings. They envisioned communities, whether in urban or rural areas, where individuals could cultivate small-scale farms and unite in a communal spirit. This idea reflects a broader aspiration to reconnect with the environment and embrace sustainable practices. Additionally, participants recognized the potent role of visual storytelling in raising environmental awareness. They advocated the use of photography, harnessing the reach of social media platforms and hosting exhibitions to showcase the beauty of the natural world and the urgency of ecological preservation. This approach not only engages the youth but also resonates with a wider audience, conveying the significance of our collective responsibility towards the environment. Youth engagement and mobilization were considered pivotal, not only in terms of raising awareness but also in instigating collective action within society. Participants stressed the importance of campaigns and workshops that empower young individuals to be catalysts for change. Furthermore, the notion of a “concept store” was proposed, serving as a dynamic hub for sustainable living. This envisioned space would facilitate the sale of second-hand clothing, host workshops, and even offer floral arrangements. It exemplifies the convergence of commerce, community, and sustainability—a space where people come together to exchange ideas, knowledge, and goods.

However, participants were acutely aware of the challenges that accompany these visions. Issues such as funding constraints, the participation of various stakeholders, and the need to navigate complex bureaucratic processes were all acknowledged as hurdles that must be overcome. The use of social media, particularly when addressing sensitive topics or conflicts through photography, raised concerns about the presentation of content and its potential impact on a broader audience. The availability of suitable venues and the tendency towards individualism were also cited as potential barriers to collective action. Bureaucratic red tape, often encountered in the form of local authorities and legal regulations, posed additional challenges, making it imperative to streamline processes and create a more inclusive environment.

Nevertheless, amidst these challenges, participants identified a series of opportunities and resources that can propel these green job initiatives forward. The proactive engagement of young people through campaigns, workshops, and a return to nature was highlighted as a powerful force for change. In line with that, communications professionals can harness the power of social media as they strategically connect with the wider public by crafting compelling narratives and engaging in real-time conversations that shape perceptions and drive meaningful engagement with the public. Moreover, the concept of sustainable development was viewed as a guiding principle that could harmonize economic activities with environmental preservation. Participants saw potential in creating shared spaces for collaboration, where local NGOs and small producers could come together to promote sustainable practices and showcase their products. Furthermore, the prospect of urban populations decreasing as individuals embrace rural and communal living was seen as a demographic shift that could alleviate environmental pressures in major cities.

Education and skills development emerged as key resources, as these initiatives would provide young people with the knowledge and capabilities needed to navigate the complexities of a green economy. Trainers are instrumental in equipping individuals with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the complexities of the green agenda and foster a generation capable of driving sustainable practices and environmental stewardship. The universal language of visuals, such as photographs, was recognized for its ability to transcend linguistic barriers, making environmental messages accessible to a global audience. Research, whether in the form of consumption studies, mapping exercises, case studies, or best practice documentation, was seen as a valuable tool for informed decision-making. Lastly, participants emphasized the significance of networking, underscoring the importance of connecting diverse actors from various stakeholder groups. Such collaboration, they believed, could catalyse innovative solutions, pool resources, and drive collective efforts towards a sustainable and just future. In summary, the insights and proposals put forth by our participants reflect a dynamic and comprehensive approach to the green job agenda. They envisage a future where young people are at the forefront of environmental awareness and action, supported by visionary projects and programs that aim to rekindle our connection with nature, leverage the power of visual storytelling, and foster a sense of community and collaboration. While challenges are acknowledged, the opportunities and resources identified offer a roadmap for navigating the complexities of a sustainable and just transition.

At the conclusion of the training, participants engaged in a national exchange that lasted approximately one hour, bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders and attendees. The highlight of this exchange was a presentation of “The Climate Action Guide”, written by Joop Hazenberg, a pivotal resource that provided valuable insights and actionable strategies for addressing climate challenges. This book served as a comprehensive roadmap by fostering a shared understanding and commitment to climate action among the participants and creating a space for collaborative efforts towards a more sustainable and just future.

Furkan Sorkuncuk

Project Coordinator at Volonteurope