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COP28 Spotlights Youth in Combatting Climate Change

Feature by Alexandra van der Ploeg

COP28 Spotlights Youth in Combatting Climate Change

Feature by Alexandra van der Ploeg

Published 12-12-23

Submitted by SAP

A child holding a bottle of water

In my role at SAP, I have seen firsthand the multifaceted challenges climate change brings, especially to youth. By 2050, we are looking at a world where over 1 billion people could be displaced due to environmental upheavals, with nearly 2 billion children facing increased health risks from intense heat.

These are not just numbers: futures are at stake, particularly for young people whose education and opportunities are being disrupted right before our eyes. This stark reality drives home the need for inclusive and equitable strategies in our climate action plans.

Youth are at the frontline of these environmental challenges. Their futures depend on how effectively we can address the impacts of climate change. It is a call to action for all of us across various sectors to unite and empower the voices of these young people, harnessing their potential to create innovative solutions.

At SAP, we’ve embraced a four-pronged approach specifically designed to support and empower youth in their journey to a sustainable and just world: rally, represent, reskill, and resource.

Sharing these insights at the RewirEd Summit during COP28, where education is a focal point, reminds me of the critical need to intertwine education funding with our climate goals, addressing the immediate and future climate challenges.

At the core of our mission for climate justice is rallying the energy and passion of the younger generation. I sincerely believe that climate action among young people is a key component of climate justice, and we need to promote that in various ways.

That is why we support Green Rising, an initiative led by UNICEF and Generation Unlimited along with partners that supports children and youth-led grassroots climate action for a faster and fairer transition to a low-carbon economy. The aim is to directly engage 10 million youth, particularly girls, to take action by 2025 through volunteering, green skills, jobs, entrepreneurship, and advocacy. Our 2023 collaboration with Goodwall and Accenture has already launched digital challenges like #ClimateAction, #DigitalCleanUp, and #GoingZero with 15,000 active youth participants.

However, I’m keenly aware that passion alone is not enough. The journey from raising awareness to finding real change requires more than just enthusiasm; it demands skill and knowledge. This realization bridges us to the next critical phase of our mission.

Green Rising also recognizes the importance of equipping youth with the tools they need to make a lasting impact.

The reskilling effort at the heart of Green Rising is about transforming energy and concern into potent, informed action. As we confront the reality of “eco-anxiety” affecting 57% of global youth, we understand that empowerment comes from giving these young minds the ability to turn their worries into wisdom and their fears into a force for good. By fostering climate literacy and developing green skills, we are not just creating activists; we’re nurturing future leaders, problem solvers, and innovators who will shape a sustainable world in areas like biodiversity, air quality, water conservation, and waste management.

I’m fortunate to see how our dedication to reskilling is making a real impact. We are charting a clear course in initiating and nurturing programs that significantly boost young people’s employability and entrepreneurial capabilities.

For instance, through accessible online resources like,, and collaborations with our colleagues from SAP University Alliances, we are empowering individuals with the necessary insights to contribute positively to climate action. Efforts extend globally. With UNICEF’s Generation Unlimited, we have empowered more than 7.6 million young people in India, Turkey, and Vietnam with vital digital and life skills.

Looking ahead, Youth Agency Marketplace (YOMA), co-created with young people from the continent, will reach 1 million youths in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and the Philippines by 2025, offering opportunities for learning and reskilling. Additionally, the SAP Educate to Employ initiative is shaping future careers, training 100 young talents in each pilot country annually, with 25 stepping into internships or roles within the SAP ecosystem.

These are steps toward nurturing a generation ready to lead the charge in sustainability and innovation.

In my experience attending conferences, I have often noticed a missing crucial element: the direct input of the young people we’re talking about. It is one thing to teach and upskill them with the crucial knowledge, but it’s another to truly empower them to be part of the conversation. It is about going beyond just training and providing youth with real platforms to contribute their fresh skills and innovative ideas to the global climate conversation.

This is what drives our approach to representation, with long-time partners and organizations such as We Are Family Foundation and ChangemakerXChange in programs like Youth To The Table.

I truly believe that this is the real game-changer. Ultimately, it is something quite simple yet often overlooked: genuinely including young people in the conversations and decision-making that shape their future.

This approach is encapsulated in the phrase “Nothing about us without us.” It’s about flipping the script, moving from merely discussing climate issues about young people to actively collaborating with them. They are not just on the sidelines, they are in the room where decisions are made.

For instance, we are bringing 50 young leaders from across the globe to the COP28 conference to get their innovative opinions and learn from their solutions. We have done it in the past and will continue in the future at global forums like the World Economic Forum and the United Nations General Assembly. Watching young leaders confidently take the stage and influence global conversations is a powerful reminder of why we do what we do — it’s about empowering them to shape the world they will live in.

A mere 0.76% of grants from major climate foundations currently support youth-led climate initiatives. This means while rallying, reskilling, and giving them a voice is crucial, it is not enough. To combat climate change, we must funnel more resources toward the projects and innovations led by youth, especially in the most affected communities. This means not just talking about, but investing in their ideas through project grants, mentorship programs like Climate Hacks, and corporate pro-bono consulting programs that connect experts with social and climate enterprises to amplify their impact and turn youthful enthusiasm and innovation into tangible, world-changing solutions.

As I reflect, I’m reminded of the unique and impactful role corporations can play in driving long-term social change. Leading these efforts at SAP has been a responsibility and a privilege, offering a front-row seat to the transformative power of education.

Seeing young people full of potential and eagerness to make a difference has been a constant reminder of why our work matters. Every digital challenge we launch, every skill we teach, and every voice we amplify is not just a tick on a corporate checklist. It’s about lighting up a path for these young leaders who will one day take the reins in creating a sustainable and just world.

The conversations I have, the stories I hear, and the evident enthusiasm and determination among youth leave a lasting impression on me. They remind me that our commitment to empowering young people goes beyond the boardrooms and conferences. It is a reminder of the potential for corporations to contribute meaningfully to a sustainable, equitable, and bright future for all. It’s about nurturing a future we all share.

Alexandra van der Ploeg is head of Global Corporate Social Responsibility at SAP.

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