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Green Jobs Do Not Belong to ‘Blah Blah Land’ by Vladislav Kaim

Green Jobs Do Not Belong to ‘Blah Blah Land’ by Vladislav Kaim




Photo credit: United Nations

Greta Thunberg’s speech at the opening of the “Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition” event immediately became viral both among the delegates attending the conference and on the Internet. One of the main reasons for that was its starting part in which she openly sarcastically repeated main post-COVID talking points of global leaders, many of which indeed rung hollow post factum and rightfully deserved being called out.

However, uncritically mocking treatment given to the topics of green jobs and green economy, considering the average age of the audience and the power of Ms. Thunberg’s potential to sway public opinion, represents a massive blunder, which, taken at face value, has the potential to cause very real and tangible harm not only to the youth she claims to represent, but to all those seeking climate justice and the promise of not being left behind. The day-to-day reality of millions of youth involves either working or being worried about not having the opportunity to work and make a living.

I am known in my public persona as a Youth Climate Advisor to the UN Secretary-General, and as an economist. But I am also, like many of us, a recent graduate and a migrant from one of the poorest countries in Europe trying to find a sense of stability in the new job market and the country I chose to make my home. I am intimately familiar with the struggle to make ends meet and being forced to choose between a bad or worse job because you are only one paycheck away from losing everything. Both as an economist and a youth I see that after the pandemic our generational anxiety about our wellbeing and that of the planet can be addressed if and only if our career paths will be able to encompass both.

To illustrate what I mean, let’s use a specific example from Ms Thunberg’s own backyard. To the north of Stockholm lies a huge and sparsely populated region of Norrland, whose local economy has been sustained for centuries through iron ore mining, steelmaking, and adjacent industries. My wife, and most of the chosen family I have found either live or have their roots there. I have lived in the north for significant stretches of time over the last few years and thus have been seeing firsthand the ubiquitousness of those industries to local life, and learning about their diverse identities and sense of dignity toward their working-class roots. There is a palpable sense of local pride in the fact that this is the region where the heart of European cleantech industry in hard to abate sectors beats - that hundreds of millions of euros worth of investments go to engineers, scientists, miners, and other specialists and their suppliers in Northern towns, but not elsewhere. That the pig iron, whose new production technology is driving CO2 emissions in production down by 90% and which will be used for making steel for other sectors, is now produced there. I have held that iron in my hands and talked to some of the people involved in the process - they and their colleagues dedicated years, dozens of years for this to come to fruition, and the continuous success is dependent on new generations of specialists taking over, because they all understand what is at stake if this new endeavor fails.

Another ubiquitous part of life in the north, one that photographers and camera crews are unlikely to ever show, is passing through the no man’s land of abandoned towns and villages that line the forest roads between the cities. These are the places that never got a chance for a green transition, much less any justice. The places that only 5, 10 or 20 years ago were full of life and people. Places that suffered the slow and excruciating death by decline, where the jobs first went away and never came back - followed soon by the schools, the hospitals and finally, the very roads themselves being swallowed up by the earth. This is not something relegated to the past - I will never forget holding my wife, another young person only a few years older than Ms. Thunberg herself, as she wept in the ruins of her abandoned childhood home: all the things she once held dear now covered in dust and snow. This process of extraction, dear readers, is not something that ends once the industries go. What few seem to stop and consider is what happens to all those resources, that labor, and indeed the people that are forced to leave their homes.

Having a green job available can mean the difference between having to starve or eat, being able to stay in your community or having to move elsewhere, and being able to live a dignified life.

Two days before my departure to Milan, I spoke at an online event organized by my fellow young colleagues from the war-torn Ukrainian region of Donbas. Economically, socially and mentally it is heavily linked to coal production. However, with the demise of the industry (with no replacement in sight) and the effects of the war, miners themselves are in dire straits and many mines have transformed into ecological ticking time bombs. Even in these circumstances, those communities are ready to embrace a path of just transition, which, yes, involves reskilling away from their jobs of yesterday to the potential jobs in hydrogen and other related industries.

What I understood from these experiences is that green jobs become part of the blah blah domain not when politicians speak about them, but when we do not insist on treating this as a generational issue with extremely practical implications. The ability to stand up there on the world stage and only focus on the most urgent and radical of action is a position that is rooted in a substantial privilege.


This is not just about climate change, but about climate justice - and that justice for people without the safety net of wealth to fall back on means thinking one step further to assure there is a future waiting for them, and to actually consult with them before deeming their causes “blah blah”.

The long-range of anecdotes can continue, and perhaps I will return to this on another occasion, as we have yet to even touch in-depth on the inequities experienced non-EU migrant youth who enjoy even fewer legal protections and opportunities than those fortunate enough to be born in the country Ms. Thunberg and I now share, or the indigenous Sami people of the north that need more investments into both modern and traditional occupations in order to preserve their living cultural heritage and the right to self determine over the use of their own land. Both stories that need to be told and amplified by giving more young people a platform to be heard.

If there is one systemic conclusion I want to leave you as a reader and Ms. Thunberg as arguably the most visible climate activist in the world with is that it is very often in today’s context that the difference between having and not having a green job ranges between substantial and existential, especially for the people of our generation. If we do not transform our skills and experience in climate action into career paths that many after us can take, if we do not emphasize this as a generational project, green jobs will indeed depart to the Blah Blah Land. The consequences of this departure though have the potential to wreck the lives of youth.


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About the Author

Vladislav Kaim (Moldova) is a young economist committed to ensuring green and decent jobs for youth, and he brings deep expertise in international trade and migration. (Twitter: @VladislavKaim)

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Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth supports all young people and their diversity in exercising their right to freedom of expression. Reach Not Preach platform serves as a safe space for all young people to share their take on the topic of climate change. The views expressed in the Reach Not Preach platform are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the United Nations Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth and the United Nations.