We’ve had yet another year of climate inaction from governments across the world, so following the 51st annual international day of environmental action: Earth Day, with this year’s theme being “restore our earth”, youth strikers across the UK are calling for an end to the reckless policy-making.
For Earth Day, prime minister Boris Johnson joined President Joe Biden and around 40 other heads of state on a video call summit where the politicians discussed the implementation of more inadequate climate pledges to add to their already insurmountable list. The first of these thinly-veiled greenwashing attempts is yet another unambitious decarbonisation target from Johnson.
Johnson’s plans to cut emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 fall short of what is needed to “restore the Earth”. We should be aiming for net zero.
After a year that has seen a pandemic and natural disasters severely exacerbated by inadequate government responses, many of us are pleading for a stop to this state of affairs. If we don’t act now, these unusual times will become the new normal. Many of the root causes of climate change (such as deforestation) are also factors that significantly increase the risks of pandemics (such as animals taking new migration paths due to habitat loss). If Johnson keeps pursuing this path of hoping his warm words cool the planet, January won’t be the last time pubs and non-essential retail close.
As the clock to total devastation keeps ticking, it’s time to break “business as usual”. It is time to put an end to handing out tax breaks to fossil fuel corporations, and it’s time to stop fuelling a profit-driven crisis through legislation that centres on corporate greed and devalues both people (unless they’re billionaires, of course) and the planet.
If we really want to take the climate crisis seriously, there’s no shortage of things that we can and should do – and the policy is already written up, just waiting to be implemented.
Contrary to what you might believe, we can in fact tackle the climate crisis whilst improving our quality of life. With Labour’s 2019 Warm Homes for All scheme, we could create 450,000 jobs whilst installing loft insulation, double glazing and renewable technologies in nearly all UK homes. We could continue this into education with Teach the Future’s English Climate Emergency Education Bill, which would retrofit all existing education buildings to be carbon net-zero by 2030 and incorporate “climate justice” into every aspect of the education system.
We can go even further than this by nationalising public transport and making it free at the point of use. With accessible, free public transport that reduces journey times, there is no more fantastic way to reduce a large number of our carbon emissions and create thousands of green jobs in the process as part of a Green New Deal. We don’t need to limit this to the UK: we can go further and expand existing rail services all across Europe, eliminating the need for planes. Furthering this, we can ensure that disabled people are provided with electric cars that meet their needs and operate on a zero-carbon budget.
The implementation of these policies would genuinely meet the aims this Earth Day has set out. To repay our global carbon debt and make reparations for our colonial damage we could provide those in the global south with the climate resilience technology, economic capacity and resources needed to decarbonise, ensuring that our own decarbonisation isn’t at the cost of their economy and political autonomy.
So following Earth Day, we’re once again begging our prime minister to step up and take the lead from young people who are tired of his constant pushing of measures that fall short of what is scientifically and politically warranted. It’s time for him to stop treating his job like a mock school parliament roleplay whilst actual schoolchildren do his job for him and announce the climate legislation we crucially need.
Climate change won’t wait for him to accept the reality before it strikes. There’s no shortage of potential policy – so why are we facing the greatest crisis of our lifetimes with a stark shortage of prime ministerial competence?
Scarlett Westbrook, 16, is the youngest person internationally to have an A-level in Government and Politics. She is spokesperson for the UK Student Climate Network and head of political engagement at Teach the Future.