THE BLOG

The Greatest Threat to Our Planet - Youth Unemployment or Global Warming?

22/05/2015 13:14 BST | Updated 20/05/2016 10:59 BST

'O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in't!'

At Regent's University London's annual Jean Monnet lecture, titled 'Youth, employment, Europe and values,' Bethy Woodward, a British Paralympic silver medalist at the London 2012 Olympics, chose Miranda's words from The Tempest to introduce her plans to support young people.

Bethy explained that all young people need help developing their aspirations and gaining success in their chosen fields, despite all of the barriers facing them.

For Bethy, the legacy of the London 2012 Paralympics was not simply a celebration of athletes with disabilities and their success, but the impact it had on everybody.

The unemployment rates of young people - held back by political, physical, family, economic or educational obstacles - continue to increase. It is bad in many developed nations, but is in fact far worse in economies that are still in a state of development.

For many young people the future looks bleak. Robert Swan, the great Polar explorer, who now devotes his time to helping young people and campaigning for environmental sustainability, says the problem starts in schools and the less functional family lives that many children experience today.

He explains: "Young people don't need more information, they need more inspiration. We must make people look up, not down. The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it."

Inspiration and optimism used to be developed by parents and siblings in the nuclear family and was reinforced in schools. Gradually these influences have been eroded and for many this has led to a pessimistic instability resulting from a breakdown of standards, values and a lack of purpose or ideals.

In Britain, Europe and the United states, in the absence of more attractive opportunities, this may lead to a rebellious culture of violence, gangs and petty crime.

Research by my Regent's colleagues suggests that in parts of the Middle East, Far East and sub-Saharan Africa, the amoral violence of organisations like Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and ISIS fills the vacuum and becomes a lifestyle choice and career, particularly for young men. Education, history and a stable world become the enemy.

It can also lead to a reduction in environmental sustainability. If young people become disconnected from society and their responsibilities as global citizens, aided by poor governmental approaches and climate change deniers, they pay less attention to these crucial matters that will affect us all catastrophically.

In her Jean Monnet address, Martina Milburn, the chief executive of the Prince's Trust, made the case that "Unemployed young people lack self-belief and this is a huge challenge for us all."

Youth unemployment is not someone else's problem. It is a global issue that affects us all, whether in our own countries or through the export of terror by extremist groups.

The question is, how do we reverse the trend and create examples from which others can learn and extend best practice worldwide?

The answer, I believe, is to develop expectation and opportunity at a young age. Problems start at home and then move in to schools. By the time people get to university it is much harder for them to change. By then it's less a development opportunity, and more about unlearning attitudes and adopting a new direction. This is always more difficult.

With massive changes in family life, schools need to act as a bridge to the future and offer an inspirational vision for their pupils while instilling self-belief. Sadly the current pressures on teachers and schools have made this more difficult. A position was stated during the lecture that the current system fails to prepare young teachers to fulfill this more pastoral role and concentrates instead on exams and league tables.

While there are first-class examples of schools that do rise to the challenge, there also seem to be too few head teachers who have developed the capacity to provide the factual and social balance.

With limited budgets and austerity, perhaps more finance should be transferred from universities and put into the school system, vocational training, apprenticeships and the development of different teacher and head teacher skills.

There are good examples of schemes that can be adopted further. The Prince's Trust has helped more than a million young people to develop careers and entrepreneurial businesses. The case studies offered by some of the beneficiaries can be used as lessons around the world.

Such is its success that more than 25 countries have asked the Trust to set up overseas and Prince's Trust International has been born. Perhaps it might be a better use of some of the UK's foreign aid budget to provide support to this, rather than some of its current expenditure.

At the lecture, Jackie Minor, Head of the European Commission Representation in the UK, described the Commission's commitment to make €1 billion available early for its Youth Employment Initiative, guaranteeing training or employment opportunities to up to 650,000 young people this year. It is not enough, but it is a start.

The future of the planet is not somebody else's business. We all have a role to play. Universities, like Regent's, with strong values, domestic influence and international reach, need to dig deep into their resources to collaborate with inspirational individuals, exciting initiatives to make a real difference.

Many students and graduates have less prejudiced and outward perspectives and must become actively engaged. If we don't provide the framework to assist, our own futures and the respect that we should command look very dim indeed.