Lucy Aylmer, Deputy Editor, discusses the BBC Radio Devon young people’s climate change debate
A selection of students from Exeter College, University of Exeter and Devon Youth Parliament were invited to attend and ask the panel of politicians’ questions concerning climate change. The panel was geographically and politically varied and included: Luke Pollard, Labour MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, John Hart the Conservative Leader of the Devon Council, Steve Darling the Liberal Democrat Leader of the Torbay Council and Professor Juliet Osborne, Chair in Applied Ecology at the University of Exeter.
Presenter Michael Chequer opened the debate by asking the panellists how politicians can reassure young people about climate change. Pollard stated that young people have “every right to be angry” about climate change and that bold and decisive action is required. He further stated that government should start listening to young people and act on it. Hart claimed to be “listening to the people of Devon” by citing the Council’s commitments to be carbon neutral by 2030. Darling concurred with this federal approach to climate change and stated that local policies would provide better and more informed solutions. In contrast, Osborne stated that it wasn’t just the government’s responsibility to manage climate change, but that large corporations need to enact change for there to be sizeable impact. She further elaborated that there needs “to be a collaborative effort” between governments and businesses.
When asked about the thorny issue of single-use plastics, both Hart and Pollard agreed that there needs to be tougher legislation to phase it out and greater pressures on supermarkets to “price it out of the equation” in the same way that plastic bags were. Pollard also mentioned that COVID-19 has “seen an explosion of single-use plastics” and that there needs to be vigorous taxation to ensure “we get the scale of change we need”. Darling argued that personal choice and localised consumption was key to phasing out single-use plastics.
From here arose the heated question of whether the UK is doing enough to tackle climate change globally. Hart kept his response simple by elaborating on Devon Council’s commitments and progress. These included purchasing land to plant trees to offset carbon emissions and changing most streetlights to LED which “has reduced our use of carbon by 70,000 tonnes a year”. Chequer then prompted a response from Osborne who stated that climate change “was easier for us to think about it in our own nation” but that fundamentally “the response has to be global”. Osborne stated that collaborative research must take place to drive technological innovation to help tackle climate change.
Chequer then asked the audience to elaborate on what they, as young people, were doing to encourage friends and family to tackle the climate change crisis. Responses were varied with some changes involving breaking bad habits such as purchasing plastic bags on weekly food shops, to students encouraging their families to reduce their meat consumption. In addition, one student from Exeter College explained how she convinced her parents to convert to using renewable energy sources to power their domestic supply of electricity.
Students also criticised the government for an inadequate curriculum that excludes discussions around climate change, and that there is still ongoing pressure for students to pursue economic wealth over environmental health. In response, Darling said that whilst this is an issue that needs to be addressed, there is a limit to what local government can achieve here and that changes “need to come from the top”. Pollard agreed that there were gaps in the national curriculum and that there needs to be a better application of knowledge to ensure that jobs are “using nature-based solutions”.
When asked about the actions of Extinction Rebellion, both Hart and Pollard condemned the groups’ approach to climate change action with Hart stating that the protests should not disrupt society. Pollard, a self-proclaimed “greenie” stated that whilst he agrees with their message, he does not support the protests. Darling expressed greater sympathy for protestors and stated that the protests come from a place of desperation and that due to the climate change emergency that is facing humanity, action needs to be radical to reflect that. The question was then rebounded to the audience in which there was a 50/50 split in support for Extinction Rebellion.
Overall, the debate was a lively affair and a great opportunity for young people to articulate their concerns about climate change to an engaged and enthusiastic audience.