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Under the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), the Sustainable Inclusive Business (SIB-K) and Ajira Digital Program on 11th August hosted a roundtable for key stakeholders in the green economy, to discuss the emerging solutions for businesses as well as the work opportunities for young people in the green sector, while curbing issues of climate change.

The roundtable was in preparation for the 12th August International Youth Day Celebrations, whose theme this year is “Green Skills for Youth: Towards a Sustainable World”, highlighting the shift towards an environmentally sustainable and climate-friendly world in response to the global climate crisis and the pressing youth-unemployment challenge. Not only that, the discussion was also held in an effort to work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The discussion focused on the possible work opportunities in the green economy in both formal employment and creation of enterprises by young people in Kenya.

There was significant attendance by key stakeholders in the green economy, including government representatives and policymakers, private sector organizations, young entrepreneurs in green jobs and green businesses, representatives from the TVET authorities as well as UN representatives and other developmental partners.

Here are some key highlights from the forum:

The Government recognizes that the interplay between economic growth, environmental sustainability, and job creation is a delicate balance that requires innovative strategies and robust partnerships. The Government has made notable efforts in regard to the growth of the green economy including policies incentivizing green innovations, sustainable production methods, and the adoption of eco-friendly technologies. By doing so, the government is not only mitigating environmental degradation but also opening avenues for the creation of green jobs, – Mr. Ismail Maalim, the Permanent Secretary at the State Department of Youth Affairs, in a speech read by Dr. Cornelius Ombagi, Director of Youth Innovation and Talent Development at the State Department of Youth Affairs.

The reason our young people are not accessing work opportunities in the green economy is that as a nation we have for a long time focused on cleaning the environment instead of managing the environment. For instance, if a mother trashes a waste diaper in a river, the solution should not be to just collect that diaper but instead, return it to the manufacturer to design proper strategies for environmental management. This is referred to as an extended producer responsibility. What this means is a sustainable department or resource in these organizations. On the enterprise end, this would mean establishing waste collection shops as well as innovations in waste management solutions. It could mean small factories for the same. All these are job opportunities for young people in Kenya,” – Dr. Ayub Macharia, Director of Environmental Enforcement at NEMA.

The private sector play’s a key role in the growth of the green economy and green jobs by driving trade and investment in green goods and services. Trading in environmental goods and services allows foreign direct investment, spurs Public-Private Partnerships, drives sustainable trade agreements, and provides financial resources for climate-related interventions. These green investments have the potential to offer high returns to investors. This is reinforced by Africa’s advantages which include the young workforce where 70% of Sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 30,” – Dr. John Wandaka, vice chairperson, of the KEPSA environment, water, and natural resources sector board.

The twin transition which involves the integration of digital with green economy exhibits significant opportunities. On one hand, the global green economy is estimated to be worth over $4 trillion and is expected to grow even further as environmental concerns gain prominence on the global stage. On the other hand, the digital economy’s contribution to Kenya’s GDP has been steadily increasing, reaching approximately 7% in recent years, and is expected to grow to 9.24% by 2025. This then calls for all actors to move beyond dialogue and get to action and implementation, whether in policy or in projects that create and promote green jobs,” – Dr. Ehud Gachugu, Director Ajira Digital Program and Youth Employment at KEPSA.

It is significant to foster collaboration across multiple stakeholders, spanning from government entities to private sector representatives and young individuals. A promising avenue for youth engagement has emerged within government procurement, underscored by AGPO’s 2023 data, which demonstrates that youth have effectively captured 39% of these opportunities. Notwithstanding these promising developments, it is evident that these opportunities may currently appear distant for young individuals. The initial stride involves bolstering awareness and comprehension among youth regarding the intricacies of the application process and the essential proficiencies requisite for the prosperous execution of such opportunities,” – Ebenezer Amadi, Program Manager of Sustainable Inclusive Business – Kenya.

As a sustainability professional, I urge young people to get out of their comfort zone and upskill and reskill in green skills to expand their opportunities. The young people should interact and learn more about the policies and documents existing around sustainability while also being innovative to be able to take advantage of available opportunities. There is also the need to understand the job market and the future of work,– Rosalid Rwaru, Head of Sustainability at BioFoods.

Some of our climate actions include rolling out of solar PVs to 5,000 base transceiver stations, growing 5 million trees by 2025 in a pact with the Kenya Forest Services supporting school regreening programs through purchase and distribution of fruit seedlings. Safaricom aims to reuse, recycle, and compost solid waste by 100%, eliminate problematic single use plastics and reduce paper consumption. Through sustainable waste management, Safaricom has invested over KES 49 million creating sustainable green jobs for 465 youths,” – Valentine Cheruiyot, Manager Climate and Envrionmental Management, Safaricom PLC.

When it comes to industry and business, green pathways and sustainable development practices are no longer options but necessary. For example, the global corporate sustainability reporting regulations demand for sustainability measures including reporting on environmental footprints, worker right, and the societal impact of enterprise activities. These trends are expected to impact on exports and employment, especially for companies that fail to meet the targets. Green manufacturing and introduction of resource efficiency and cleaner production practices can help companies to meet their environmental obligations while creating eco-efficient products to meet the growing demand,” – Linet Luvai, Deputy Country Representative UNIDO.

The transition to green jobs requires collective commitment and holistic action as it is a viable solution to reducing unemployment in Kenya. Green jobs can drive economic growth by fostering innovation, investment, and market expansion in renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, clean technology, and more. In addition, businesses in the green sector offer opportunities for long-term employment and contribute to economic resilience by reducing dependence on finite resources and volatile markets.