By David Chapoloko, UNCCD Land Hero
The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change are stealing our future. But they have also opened and exposed us, as young people worldwide, to countless opportunities for digital possibilities and a more sustainable future. But will we really run with these opportunities and transform the world to the future we really want?
This was my takeaway after participating as a panellist at the World Youth Development Forum held from 21 to 23 July 2022. All-China Federation hosted the Forum in China, which was attended in person and online, under the theme: A shared future promoting Sustainable Development with Youth and for Youth.
I was in a panel with: Li Tiantian, Founder and Chairman of DXY, China; Cristina Fonseca, Chief Executive Officer of Cleverly.ai and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader; Niall O’Higgins, Senior Economist in the International Labor Organization’s Employment Analysis Unit and Professor of Economics at the University of Salerno; and Wang Yuntao, Deputy Chief Engineer, Institute of Cloud Computing and Big Data, China Institute of Information and Communication Research.
I came away with three conclusions from the panel discussion, whose topic was entitled, Empowered by Digital Economy to Achieve SDGs.
First, the digital economy can impact the real economy. It can provide employment for youth and connect the world in a sustainable environment.
Second, young people must take advantage of their superior expertise in the use of digital skills and tools to turn global problems into solutions and opportunities.
And third, to change the world, the global community and governments, in particular, must prioritize and invest in young people, who are driving the digital age.
COVID-19 and climate change are tragedies for our generation the world over. But they are also critical junctures. These are global events that have happened at a critical moment in our history, leaving us no choice but to redefine our lifestyles.
How we produce and consume available goods, down to our global food systems and the socioeconomic environment. Our socioeconomic environment influences our global food systems and, in turn, how we produce and consume available goods.
This has created the possibility for change, but young people lack two critical ingredients to power the change.
First, despite being in the digital age, many young people still lack some of the vital basic skills needed to apply digital tools in a way that can transform society. In an era like ours, where information is readily available, ignorance is considered a choice. But access to information does not make it relevant. More importantly, most young people are self-taught. There is neither a strategic vision nor investment in information aimed at building digital opportunities and skills for youth.
That is the how-to problem. Second, is the what-to problem.
Most young people have heard about Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but lack an in-depth understanding of what they are. And yet the goals are viewed as the foundation for a future economic, social and environmental transformation. In my view, this is a fundamental problem. How can we be entrusted with the responsibility of driving the digital age without understanding the challenges of this present age or what a better future would look like?
These where some of the questions discussed at the Forum, a high-level platform for dialogue, which attracted over 400 delegates from around the world. Heads of state, policymakers, youth organizations as well as youth movements and stakeholders, participated. The aims of the Forum this year were to prioritize youth development and to advocate youth action to implement the 2030 Agenda.
Natural capital contributes about US$44 trillion in economic output through its various services, such as recreation activities, water and air purification, according to the UNCCD Global Land Outlook Second Edition. This is nearly half of the global economic output. Land degradation erodes these are services, putting future economies at risk.
Modern agriculture is a top contributor to this loss. It has altered the face of the planet more than any other human activity. There is an urgent need to rethink the global food systems, responsible for 80% of deforestation, 70% of freshwater use, and the single greatest cause of terrestrial biodiversity loss.
Innovative, creative and sustainable solutions from the digital economy can be applied to agriculture, global food systems and forestry to improve precision agriculture and food production and to reduce global hunger and poverty.
Take agriculture, for example. Consumers can trace the path their food takes from the producer to the consumer; from the farm all the way to your local store. This can help consumers far away to choose food that is produced on sustainably managed farms. In this way, consumers can reward farmers keeping most of the carbon in the soil, by not degrading the land.
On the production side, farmers are using digital tools to prepare and plant their seeds just in time. Digital tools are matching farmers to consumers and helping farmers to use only the land needed to produce the food in demand. This reduces food waste at the farm level. These actions improve sustainable land use, protect livelihoods and provide food security.
Youth entrepreneurs can take advantage of digital tools, such as mobile games, mobile applications, computer software and social media to grow businesses and markets. These examples I shared to show how youth entrepreneurs can take advantage of the digital transformation to lead the real economy.
It is true our lack of access to digital tools or skills and expertise are challenges that must not be ignored. But if we take interest in global issues to see and seize these opportunities, we can redefine these problems and channel our skills into solutions.
Our impact on the future, as young people, could be phenomenal. But we must see the digital age as a moment for change. Sustainable development goals must become the anthem and chorus of every youth. We will grow economies and unleash smarter and sustainable livelihood means for our generation if we have a good grasp of the issues the digital economy can address.
I am angry. I have protested at the unsustainable world I am inheriting. But I am channelling my pain to positive energy through concrete actions and speaking out to whichever leaders I can reach in both the private and public spheres. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have destroyed jobs and raised the risk to our livelihoods. But we can ride these waves and turn the tide in our favor. Into a bright sustainable future.