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19th February 2020
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International Youth Day

Posted 15/08/2016 by sevans

A missed opportunity to communicate?

In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly (UN) declared August 12 International Youth Day. The 2016 Day is focused on achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It promotes the leading role of young people in ensuring eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development, through sustainable production and consumption. Surely this is an opportunity to raise the awareness amongst the younger citizens of the Earth that such creditable goals cannot be reached without the application of chemistry and by improving the performance of the chemical industry.

The UN states to the youth of the world that “Sustainable consumption entails the use of products and services that meet the basic needs of communities while safeguarding the needs of future generations.” Whilst at the one level it can be said that this goal is linked to the choices made by individuals, and as such individual choices do help increase the eco-efficiency of consumption and minimization of waste and pollution. At another level it is clear that the underpinning nature of the chemical industry in the production of all consumer goods needs to be reinforced if such ideals are to become reality.

For example, the use of fertilizer and spoil improvers. Herbicides and insecticides that will help increase yields in food production. Alternatively consider the recycling of polymers which is still in its technological infancy and yet vital if circular economy and sustainability goals are to be achieved. These are both wide topics that young people around the world barely understand. The UN itself states that our youth face barriers to green consumption choices which include high prices of goods but perhaps the most important statement the UN makes is that they suffer from “a lack of understanding about the available choices.” This is perhaps where the global chemical Industry should be playing its part in International Youth Day by using this day to communicate how our sector can help address these concerns.

The UN suggests that our youth can help society increases its “resource efficiency”. Again this is a topic that cannot be addressed without scientific method. The recycling of materials, recovery and reuse of energy and greater industrial integration require chemistry and engineering such that we become more symbiotic in the use of raw materials, intermediates and finished goods. These topics are currently at the leading edge of thinking in the chemical sector. Our youth will be completely unaware of this and yet, as an industry, we have created no excitement an bout it nor demonstrated that we need their ideas and zeal to make such things happen.

The UN cite that resource efficiency and sustainable production are a significant way to meet “the basic needs of all people, including youth, by making food, water and energy more accessible” focusing particularly making these more affordable to those living in poverty. Our youth need to know that opportunities exist for them in the future as “investing in sustainable production also creates new markets and employment opportunities and helps ensure the social inclusion of all persons in their societies everywhere.”

If changes in consumption patterns are achieved the UN state that this has the potential to contribute to the eradication of poverty, whilst sustainable development and the and the transition into a green economy, might provide the impetus for economic growth. It seems to me though that there is some naivety here as this alone is unlikely to result in a higher proportion of spending allocated to social development, including health care and education. Geo-political and economic environments are also likely to be key factors in raising the living standards of young people in future.

There is no doubt though that the UN’s conclusion that a positive impact could be achieved through sustainable consumption and production; and that energy use per unit of production can be reduced. All of which should help decrease the environmental burden we humans are putting onto our Earth. Positive outcomes in these goals would greatly benefit those people and places that are more vulnerable to harmful environmental, industrial and climate change. Certainly, by focusing our youth this year’s theme “places an emphasis on a cross-sectoral approach to sustainability and the vast social, political, economic and environmental linkages needed to achieve it.”

The theme of this year’s International Youth Day is therefore inextricably linked to both the strengths and weaknesses of the chemical sector I believe globally as a sector we perhaps should have taken this chance to communicate more deeply with the youth of the world. We have missed a chance to demonstrate the issues that we as an industry are trying to address. At the same time we could have sought their help, ideas and zeal to address them.

Yet again I think the chemical industry has missed the boat. Despite all the many fragmented programmes we have concocted as companies and sector bodies to communicate to local communities. Our failure to better communicate with young people of the world will continue to haunt us for many years to come. In the way we have introduced an intentionally acceptable approach to safety and environmental management ie Responsible Care, we need a similar globally accepted high-profile youth communication platform that everyone in our sector would be proud to stand alongside.

Stan Higgins

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