Energy Voices


photot for reema nanavaty

Helen Watts
Senior Director, Global Partnerships, Student Energy

Student Energy in action

What energy solutions have you or your organization been working on?

This year Student Energy has leveraged our growth as an organization as the global youth climate and energy movement has grown steadily over the last several years. We are working to strengthen our core programs and better understand the needs of our youth network to accelerate global action on energy and recognition of youth as critical enablers of solutions.

Highlights of our most recent phase of growth include: growing our network to 47 Student Energy Chapters on post-secondary campuses in 22 countries, who engaged over 16,000 youth in 2020 alone. We launched the first Leaders Fellowship cohort last year, with 47 global teams completing their 10-month program, and this year we have brought on close to 200 fellows into the second cohort in response to overwhelming demand for the program.

The Global Youth Outlook survey is now available in eight languages, and we are working with a global youth team of Regional Coordinators to reach 50,000 young people in the lead-up to COP26. Early findings from the Outlook have shown that over 50% of young people want their government to commit to a net zero target by 2030, and less than 20% of youth 18-30 feel their perspectives and values on energy issues are not valued by business and government.

Our Energy System Map and video users skyrocketed this past year, reaching over 10 million users, as more students and educators turned to digital energy learning resources. Just last year, we launched the new Energy System Map at, featuring the new “Influences” layer, to help young people understand how to change the energy system.

We provided $120,000 in funding directly to young people to support them with honorariums and awards to help them take action on energy, and are working on an even more ambitious direct-to-youth funding strategy for 2021 where we aim to unlock a new funding mechanism for youth solutions at scale.

To date Student Energy has now partnered with 90 organizations to make space for youth, and we’ve developed new models for intergenerational collaboration that will continue to expand through 2021.

As a youth-led organization, we are excited to see that youth leadership for bold, just climate action is being recognized more often on the global stage. We are hopeful this recognition will grow into more meaningful support and resources for youth-led climate and energy solutions in 2021 and beyond. To make this happen, there is much more that organizations, governments, and those in power need to do to fully empower and equip youth with the tools and resources they need to take action.

Why is the High-level Dialogue on Energy important at this time?

Youth as a critical enabler of solutions is such an under-researched area, and to date there have been no global datasets on how youth think about and want to act on achieving universal clean energy access by 2030. For Student Energy and for me, the High-level Dialogue on Energy came at a critical time where global consciousness of youth movements on climate is at an all time high, and Student Energy is undertaking the first global research initiative on youth perspectives and motivations for accelerating the clean energy transition.

We are working to leverage these insights from the Youth Outlook, as well as insights from youth that we worked with UNDP to gather through a global youth engagement process this past month, to inform the HLDE roadmaps and centre youth in the global energy agenda for the very first time.

There are many reasons that youth should be underscored in the HLDE roadmap as a critical enabler of solutions. Youth make up a significant public advocacy body pushing for clean energy and access policies from their local and national governments. And youth are our collective solution to “future proof” commitments and action taken now — by engaging youth and getting buy-in, we can sustain action on SDG 7 in the long-term.

Can you give a preview of what commitments you might include in a potential Energy Compact by your organization?

The consortium of youth participating in the HLDE Technical Working Groups are seriously considering pursuing a Youth Energy Compact. Some commitments we might include would be:

  • Significant investments in youth incubation platforms and a more inclusive range of financial support for young people accessing clean energy capacity-building programs and seeking financial support for their projects and social innovations. This will support young entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs working on integrated solutions and new technologies while also ensuring that they become viable at industry scale.
  • Supporting youth movements to gain traction and credibility with their influence on decision-making. Governments have a responsibility to consult directly with youth through programs like advisory councils, compensate youth for their time, and proactively invite youth to participate, with an imperative to reach diverse communities of youth.
  • Ensure youth have access to education and training that enables them to think critically and develop relevant capabilities and apply their motivation and knowledge to practical solutions. If young people are not supported to be competitive in a changing future of work, many sectors will continue to struggle to find and employ talent that can sustain this transition in the energy industry. The talent and knowledge gap presents a significant risk to achieving universal clean energy access by 2030. Also, it is imperative that evidence-based climate science and the level of urgency required for action is communicated to students seeking careers in the energy sector to foster critical thinking and decision-making for future career choices.