The politicians have floundered on climate change, says Green Party MEP Alexandra Phillips. It’s time to listen to the young
Faced with fatal inaction on the part of politicians and parliamentarians, children and young people across Europe are taking matters into their own hands.
The waves of youth climate strikes and direct action in recent days and weeks has given me hope for the future, in that a generation of eloquent, passionate and dedicated young people are politically aware and active. At the same time, when children and young people take to the streets, it’s a sure-fire signal that democracy is failing.
What has been particularly telling is that lots of these same activists and young people have shown themselves to be much better at effectively summarising the climate crisis than many Westminster politicians. I’ve heard young people suggest actions and interventions that make more sense than most of the garbled platitudes that our current administration puts forward. I’ve also heard reasoned debate about personal responsibility and the necessary legislative and individual actions that must take place to secure humanity’s future.
I used my maiden speech at the European parliament to celebrate the actions of today’s youth and to argue that they are showing us the way forward. Clearly, there is a mandate for immediate and radical change on environmental issues in the EU, and this mandate comes from those who will suffer the consequences of our mistakes. Urgent actions such as committing to net zero by 2030 and implementing a Green New Deal must be adopted at national and supranational levels. But how we go about devising and implementing legislation necessary for the future of our planet needs to be reconsidered. Fundamentally, I believe that those who will be affected by our actions need to have a seat at the decision-making table.
At the Green Party conference we committed to putting young people first. A raft of new policies was announced, among them representation of 16-year-olds in parliament. I believe that in the EU we can go one step further than this. The energy and climate legislation we pass has a direct impact on how the young people of today will live their lives tomorrow. They need and deserve to play an active role in the development of this legislation, as it is their future that we are playing with.
The EU has the chance to be at the vanguard of progressive politics. That’s why I’m calling for an EU Young People’s Commission to audit climate change and energy policy. Young people’s voices need not just to be heard, but to hold sway. In the EU, my proposed commission would have the option to veto climate and energy policy. It should be allowed to make amendments on key deadlines such as that for becoming carbon neutral and should audit permissions and negations for renewable energy providers. To tackle climate change, democracies and democratic entities must be ready to challenge the handful of big businesses responsible for the majority of global emissions. I believe young people have shown their capacity, their willingness and their tenacity to take on that fight. I propose that the EU Young People’s Commission has the power to make business accountable for their actions, and the affront they represent to our collective future.
Clearly, it’s not reasonable to expect young people still in or having recently finished compulsory schooling to have advanced legislative knowledge. The Commission would be supported and advised by legal experts who young people themselves could appoint following a democratic selection process.
It’s important to mention that fantastic work led by Greens is already going on in the EU to promote a genuine Green New Deal, and to secure a coalition of cross-party support for its implementation. With European youth on board, the Green New Deal could be rooted in a vision for the future formed by those who will live it. We have the opportunity to create a new economy and workforce which will contribute to diminishing inequality and lower rates of poverty – and young people have a right to be part of it.
We are all responsible for the state of the planet. Whilst some hold greater responsibility than others, the actions of young people have shown adults of all walks of life to be wanting. All of those in positions of political and economic power are complicit in the mess that the planet is in. While many of us are fighting for different outcomes, the time is now for young people to be given the voice and the power they need. In short, it’s time that we took urgent action – and it’s time that we let today’s youth guide us towards a future in which they can flourish.
Alexandra Phillips is Green Party MEP for South-East England