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Investing in Africa’s youth critical for green and sustainable future

In global discussions on the future of the planet amid the growing needs of current and future generations, the case of Africa brings a unique perspective. Often referred to as the world’s most youthful continent, sub-Saharan Africa alone is projected to be home to approximately 2 billion people by 2050, half of them under 25. In 2020, the median age of Africa’s population was 19.7, a significant gap compared to all other continents. By 2100, the median age for Africa is projected to be 35.

Carol Mungo / Published on 12 August 2022
Perspective contact

Lawrence Nzuve /

Global Youth Environment Assembly

The global Youth Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Lawrence Nzuve / SEI.

These numbers can be perceived as overwhelming and intriguing at the same time, especially in the context of the current stress on natural resources. However, African countries are experiencing multiple transitions that, if holistically handled, will change the narrative of the continent in the next 20 to 30 years. The foundation of changing this narrative lies with the most important capital the continent holds: its growing population of youth.

Despite this, most African countries still struggle to create jobs and equip young people with the skills needed to serve its growing economies, and structurally invest in youth-led initiatives. There is a weak link between higher education levels and better job prospects despite the rapidly growing number of young people in the job market. By 2030, 30 million young people are expected to enter the African labor market annually. Currently, only 3 million jobs are created in sub-Saharan Africa each year, but at least 18 million new formal jobs will be needed annually to absorb new entries by 2030.

Continent Median age in 2020
Africa 19.7
Latin America 31
Asia 32
Oceania 34
Northern America 38.6
Europe 45

Source: Adopted from Mo Ibrahim Foundation, 2020.

global Youth Environment Assembly

Group discussions at the global Youth Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Lawrence Nzuve / SEI.

At the same time, the development pathways of Africa are unique in the way it is decarbonizing most of the important sectors of the economy. This presents an opportunity to create new jobs and entirely new revenue streams through shifting from traditional “brown jobs” to “green jobs”.  Exploring what young people can bring to the table should be a priority of governments and the basis of this is through building an intergenerational solidarity, as illustrated by the 2022 International Youth Day theme.

Every year on 12 August, the world commemorates International Youth Day. In 2022, young people have chosen to celebrate this day under the theme of “Intergenerational Solidarity: Creating a World for All Ages”. Intergenerational solidarity was the foundation of the Stockholm +50 youth science report prepared by a team of 12 young scientists from SEI in collaboration with colleagues from the Council of Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) in India. This report was a companion of the independent scientific report Stockholm+50: Unlocking a Better Future (SEI and CEEW, 2022).

Youth Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.

A session at the global Youth Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Lawrence Nzuve / SEI.

The report complied the opinion of  over 900 young people through a global online survey with response from 89 countries. The key message from the youth who responded to the survey is that youth need more opportunities to engage in different forums and voice their concerns. The report provides recommendations on how to ensure adequate youth participation and involvement is achieved, including specific political representation. Here is a summary of the key messages highlighted in this report.

  • The need of a healthy planet is for the prosperity of all. Pursuit of economic growth is not the only metric of progress, as this threatens the health and safety of younger generations
  • Climate-induced anxiety is evident among young people. The report finds that a child born in 2020 will experience twice as many wildfires on average, 2.6 times as many drought events, 2.8 times as many river floodings and 6.8 times more heatwaves across their lifetimes compared to a person born in 1960.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the failures of the current systems and governance regimes in shielding vulnerable populations and youth. This illustrates the importance of listening to science and avoiding the costs of delayed action.
  • Youth need to be included in roundtable discussions and policy development. Youth concerns need to be legitimized in mainstreaming policymaking.

It is important to highlight these keys messages, especially on the day specially dedicated to what young people feel and think of their future. This is not the time to blame on past generations, but instead, it is a moment to maximize opportunities to future generations. Young people across the globe carry a message of hope through the report, which shares the opinions of young people from Africa. The future of the continent largely lies in the hands of young people from Africa, intergenerational solidarity needs to be fostered for a green and sustainable future.

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