It all started on a very hot day in Marrakesh, Morocco, when UKYCC’s delegation to the UN climate talks met with Nick Hurd under a traditional Bedouin tent. After our traditional golden nuggets, we came down to business. Our first question concerned the UK’s 2050 Emissions Roadmap – a detailed plan of how the UK was going to decarbonise its economy before 2050. Our logic was the following: 1. We are going to be the ones most affected by today’s decisions on climate change 2. We are skilled and passionate 3. We should therefore be involved in the drafting of the UK’s Emissions Roadmap! Implacable logic – which did not fail to convince Nick Hurd.
UKYCC meets with the UK’s Climate Minister Nick Hurd. More information on that meeting here
A couple of weeks following COP22, I get a phone call from Kevin Hunt, Head of Stakeholder Engagement at BEIS (acronym alert: Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy). We agree that we would organise a Roundtable of youth organisations to talk about the Emissions Roadmap, and the role of youth in addressing climate change. I hung up the phone with a big smile on my face – sometimes, the only obstacle to something happening is our fear of asking for it!
On Monday the 6th, the Roundtable finally took place at BEIS’ new offices. After rushing through the tube, Emily and I end up getting there 20 mins in advance – which leave us some time to meet other youth delegates. At 10am sharp, an escort comes to get us: Nick Hurd is ready to meet us. Our meeting room is on the 7th floor. As I am contemplating the breathtaking view on Big Ben, Nick Hurd approaches me “Quite a change from the Bedouin tents, right?” “Yes, I smile, quite a change..” A few minutes later, we get down to business. 10 youth organisations attended this meeting namely, Christian Aid, Healthy Planet UK, MADE, NUS, Oil Jay (Jewish Climate Action Network), Restless Development, UKYCC and WFC. (Unfortunately, the representative from Young Friends of the Earth could not make it to the Roundtable because of the strikes). Each youth representative first introduced themselves and their organisations, and explained what their main campaigns were at the moment.
Topics that were discussed included climate education, climate communication, and the need for government action.
- Climate education
We all agreed that climate education was key to addressing climate change. We do not even have to look that far – a few years ago climate change was a compulsory part of the national school curriculum and the UK had some pretty good climate education programs! But then cuts were made and as always, social and environmental policies were the first to suffer. Emily from UKYCC raised the point that currently grammar schools and other independent schools do not have to teach about climate change to their students! They just have to cover what the Exam Boards -a privatised entity!- require them to teach. And this does not include climate change. But then, who should we lobby for change? BEIS? The UK government? The Department of Education? The Exam board?
The representative from WFC then talked at length about a new climate education program that was launched in Maryland. The local government implemented environmental literacy standards (knowledge, awareness and skills), upon which students are tested. Apparently, this model of education is really successful and the UK could definitely learn from it!
A key factor in determining the success of climate education programs is whether citizens then feel empowered to take action. Raising awareness of the problem is important – but does not lead to change if citizens are not offered with ways to engage in the political process, take action in their daily lives or able to make a career out of it. The representative from Christian Aid agreed with that, saying that lots of her friends went into oil because the market for clean energy is unstable. Suggestions were made about having a Green Internship Program, and reforming the Apprenticeship Levy to put a greater focus on low-carbon skills. An important caveat however: the definition of green jobs should not be limited to jobs in the renewable energy industry – younger generations will want and need a wide range of jobs! If they have been taught pro-environmental values and equipped with critical thinking skills in their youth, they can then implement these principles to incorporate sustainability across all sectors!
- Climate communication and the need for leaders
Dan from Oil Jay said that in terms of communications, we needed to do two things: 1. Be honest about the scale of the problem and about the costs and stakes of inaction. Downplaying the real costs of inaction will only delay action and increase suffering all around the world. 2. Talk about solutions in a POSITIVE WAY. Gloom and doom narratives do not trigger change – rather, they scare people off, and make them feel powerless. Many solutions exist – and we need to get vocal about them.
The representative from MADE echoed what Dan said and argued that we needed to tailor our discourses to our audience to maximise their effectiveness. After working with Climate Outreach, they realised that older and younger members of the Muslim communities reacted differently to similar discourses. For example, young people often felt disengaged from the political process, and were more likely to act when presented with concrete and hands-on solutions – leading to amazing efforts such as the “Clean Up My Mosque” campaign. Other frames, such as environmental stewardship, resonated to both age ranges.
Following up on what had been said, I talked about the lack of leadership on climate change in the UK government. In effect, climate change remains the big elephant in the room – although it will affect every economic sector and is one of the biggest crises we have ever faced. This needs to change. How can we expect ordinary citizens to feel empowered if the government consistently avoid talking about the biggest crisis of our times? Politicians need to get vocal about climate change – and lead the way in climate action. After hearing my statement, Nick Hurd replied “What you said is really nice… however young people are really disengaged from the political process nowadays.. They don’t really relate to MPs”. To which Mia from Healthy Planet directly responded: “How can you expect young people to relate to their MPs if they are dont talk about / are not loud enough about issues that ACTUALLY matter to us?!” Great point – which was swiftly ignored.
- The need for government action
Our discussion was interesting – but increasingly made me feel at unease. While individual action is necessary to effect change, and smoothly transition towards a clean and fair world, we should not overestimate the impact that we can have as citizens. Government policies can sometimes accelerate the pace of transition more than any other actions. Let’s take fossil fuel subsidies. Although committing -as one of the G7 countries- to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by 2025, the UK still does not have a clear plan that outlines how they will do that. Worse still – the UK recently increased the amount of subsidies given to the fossil fuel industry. How can clean energy succeed if the market is biased towards fossil fuels? These sorts of policies cannot be enacted by citizens – we thus need to government to play its role, too.
Overall the Roundtable was a positive experience.. which could end up becoming a tick-boxing exercise if there is no follow up. We will not let this happen – so watch this space.
Ps: We also made a video! Check it out here: