Listening, learning … and getting creative

The Second OECD youth video competition has just been launched, with education and skills as the theme. We asked the six youth co-organisers of the 2012 edition for their thoughts on the importance of education, why they think young people should speak up, and how they got involved in this competition.

Little did we know that when we were creating three minute videos for the OECD’s first global youth video competition early in 2011 that a few months later we would actually be co-organising the next competition! In May 2011, we were invited to Paris as winners of that first competition and our worlds suddenly became a whole lot bigger. For three exciting days at the OECD Forum we had a unique opportunity to observe and even participate in a global convergence of innovative ideas and forward-looking approaches to addressing the major social and economic challenges of our time, including climate change, poverty, gender inequality, underdevelopment, financial instability and unemployment.

What particularly struck us was the conviction of so many people at the OECD when they spoke about the importance of listening to young people and what we have to say about important issues. Their view is that it is not only valuable, but essential, for the next generation to get involved today in finding solutions to major global challenges. So when the OECD asked us to team-up with them to launch a second global youth video competition, we jumped at the chance.

As a group of young people, some of whom have recently completed third level education, we believe that many of the problems facing the world today are born of ignorance, intolerance and lack of education. We know that issues cannot be solved by taking a “band-aid approach”, but that solutions should always address the root cause of any problem. For us, there is no better long-term solution to a problem than education.

Education is a powerful economic indicator in any country: social progress and economic development are closely linked to academic ability and competitive skills among the labour force. Equally, a comprehensive and well-rounded education creates smart, compassionate and open-minded individuals – and consequently societies that are much better equipped to tackle environmental, social and financial issues, not only locally, but globally.

Young people have an important role to play: we must continue to remind decision-makers and political leaders that the problems they are facing today are the same problems we will have to tackle tomorrow – unless we work together to achieve equitable and sustainable solutions, not just for today’s generation but for future generations.

We are delighted that, after a public vote, education has been chosen as the theme of the 2012 youth video competition and we are very excited about seeing creative and innovative ideas from other young people around the world that will hopefully challenge our current ways of thinking about this topic. We also look forward to meeting the competition winners in Paris next May, so we can share with each other the incredible journey we have embarked on since stepping forward to express our ideas to the world.


Alina, Desiree, Hew, Javier, Stephanie and Vidhya

Work life imbalance

Sigh Ho, Sigh Ho, it's off to work we go...

If you’re fretting, chafing, sighing, grieving, complaining, finding faults, repining, grudging, weeping, vexing, disquieted in mind, with restless, unquiet thoughts, then you’ve probably been eating cabbage, which as you should know by now, sends black vapours up into the brain, provoking melancholy. It’s not the only cause, of course, and you should also avoid sorrow, fear, shame, disgrace and any other emotion as well as too much exercise, too much study, poverty, scoffs, pleasures immoderate and werewolves.

You’ll find all this and more in the hundreds of pages of Robert Burton’s 1621 masterpiece Anatomy of Melancholy, where he describes the causes and symptoms of psychiatric disorders and discusses possible cures, ranging from herbal teas to drilling holes in the head. What he doesn’t mention is work, except to say that hardworking servants have no time for such ladylike maladies.

That’s where the OECD steps in. Sick on the Job? Myths and Realities about Mental Health at Work says that on average, one in five workers in OECD countries suffers from a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. From a third to a half of all new disability benefit claims are for mental health reasons, and that figure rises to 70% for young adults. The report highlights the “considerable lack of awareness, non-disclosure and under-treatment among adolescents and young adults, with the gap before the first treatment of a mental illness on average being about 12 years”.

As a result, many young people struggle to get through school, and once they leave they are unfit for work and go straight onto disability benefit. The human cost is appalling, and the economic cost is  considerable too – around 3% to 4% of the EU’s GDP according to the International Labour Organisation.

As the subtitle implies, Sick on the Job tackles some of the myths about mental ill-health, and notably the idea that prevalence is increasing. It’s not, but there is much more public awareness of mental disorders, less stigma, and better assessment tools. Unfortunately, at the same time, that’s also meant that more people suffering from mental disorders have been excluded from work, perhaps because many jobs now require social skills or cognitive competencies that workers with mental health problems don’t have.

The problem could get worse though, as working conditions grow harsher and job insecurity grows. The share of workers exposed to work-related stress, or job strain, has increased in the past decade all across the OECD. And in the current economic climate, more and more people are worried about their job security (a rising fear among the employed according to this poll).

What can be done to improve the well-being of people suffering from mental disorders? The OECD report argues for a “three-fold policy shift will be required thereby giving more attention to common mental disorders and also sub-threshold conditions; disorders concerning the employed as well as the unemployed; and preventing instead of reacting to problems””

How about Burton? Apart from cutting down on the cabbage, what did he have to propose? In OECD jargon, we’d say a holistic approach to increasing overall well-being accompanied by timely, targeted interventions aimed at the most vulnerable.

But let’s hear him argue for a welfare state, pensions, social security and justice in his own, magnificent, words: “If they be impotent, lame, blind, and single, they shall be sufficiently maintained in several hospitals, built for that purpose; if married and infirm, past work, or by inevitable loss, or some such like misfortune cast behind, by distribution of corn, house-rent free, annual pensions or money, they shall be relieved, and highly rewarded for their good service they have formerly done; if able, they shall be enforced to work. For I see no reason why an epicure or idle drone, a rich glutton, a usurer… should live at ease, and do nothing, when a poor labourer… that hath spent his time in continual labour…, and without whom we cannot live, shall be left in his old age to beg or starve, and lead a miserable life worse than a jument.”

Cheers you up, doesn’t it?

Useful links

The OECD “Mental Health and Work Project”

OECD work on mental health

Greening the global energy system

Today’s post is from Dana Krechowicz, Research Associate at Sustainable Prosperity, Ottawa, Canada

Energy is the foundation of our modern lives, providing us with mobility, comfort and convenience, and powering the economy. Although the carbon-intensity of energy production varies from country to country, the current energy system is a significant contributor to CO2 emissions (accounting for 84% of global global greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions). It’s clear that a fundamental transformation is required in the way we produce, deliver and consume energy to reduce its carbon-intensity. But given the energy sector’s size, complexity, path dependency and reliance on long-lived assets, how do we get there? This question is at the heart of the climate change dilemma.

Following the release of the 2011 World Energy Outlook, the IEA and OECD have released a joint report Green Growth Studies: Energy . This study draws on the IEA’s work on global energy trends and predictions to outline the necessary policy interventions to redirect the global energy system onto a greener path.

A comprehensive green growth strategy for the energy sector will take into account the inter-relationships between economic sectors, transport systems, land-use patterns, social welfare and environmental integrity. A range of mutually reinforcing policies is required, which address market failures and barriers, and create the enabling policy framework for large-scale private sector investment.

Governments play an important role in fostering innovation and supporting the scaling up of deployment of existing and emerging technologies in the energy sector, since many low-carbon technologies currently are more costly than fossil fuels, although their costs are declining. In fact, to achieve a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions, government funding for research and development in low-carbon technology needs to be two to five times higher than current levels.

Government support for specific technologies needs to be tailored according to the stage of technology development, which can be categorized as promising, technically proven, close to competitive and competitive. On one end of the scale, for emerging technologies, governments can provide financial support for research and large-scale demonstration; at the other end, more mature and competitive technologies need governments to help tackle market, informational and other barriers to large-scale deployment.

Broadly, the key policies that are required to set the framework for the transformation of the energy sector include:

  • Set enabling conditions to make markets work.
  • Eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.
  • Provide price signals for environmental externalities (e.g. carbon).
  • Radically improve energy efficiency.
  • Foster innovation and green technology policy.

The energy revolution that is needed can be characterized by improved energy efficiency, widespread introduction of carbon capture and storage, increased deployment of renewable energy, continued fuel switching, and support for new and enabling technologies.

A large-scale transformation of the global energy sector is possible, though it will require significant investment. Global emissions could be halved by 2050, using existing and emerging technologies, with additional new investment of $46 trillion. It is vital for governments to create the enabling policy framework to catalyze private sector investment in the transition to a low-carbon energy sector. It is cheaper in the long-run to act now, as every dollar of energy sector investment not spent before 2020 will require an additional $4.3 to be spent after 2020 to compensate for increased GHG emissions by building zero-carbon plants and infrastructure by 2035.

Without decisive action, existing and emerging low-carbon technologies won’t be deployed on the scale necessary to make large reductions in GHG emissions, due to the entrenchment of fossil fuels.

Investments in a new energy strategy would however pay dividends in areas other than cliumate too. The report finds that the transition to a low-carbon energy system is likely to have a positive impact on employment in the energy sector because renewables tend to be more labour-intensive that fossil fuel-based energy. Increased deployment of solar phtovoltaics would yield the largest number of jobs, with strong growth also expected in the energy efficiency, geothermal and solar thermal sectors.

Useful links

OECD work on green growth