Will 2018 truly be the ‘Year of Young People’?
I got involved in activism four years ago as I became aware of the urgency of the climate crisis and the power that people have when they organise and come together. Now, I work for Young Friends of the Earth Europe, a network of young activists and campaigners working for solutions based on equity and justice.
The young people I interact with every day give me hope. I co-ordinate Young Friends of the Earth Scotland (YFoES) which has active volunteers in Dundee, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dumfries. Our groups work on local campaigns such as divesting public funds from fossil fuels or building their own solutions such as redistributing surplus food.
Despite this growing movement and the power it has, being a young climate campaigner in 2018 is frustrating. While young people across the country are fighting for their future, our efforts are being undermined by our decision makers.
Our council pension funds are investing £1.8 billion in fossil fuel companies, contributing to the destruction of our environment and communities around the world. Our oceans are filling up with plastics, often manufactured in Grangemouth using ethane from fracked gas imported from the USA. Our chances of limiting global warming are being burnt in the engines powered by North Sea oil.
2018 is Scotland’s ‘Year of Young People’. It is also the year Scotland will publish its new Climate Change Bill, laying out emissions targets for the next 30 years.
The Government’s current plans fail to meet the ambition of the Paris Agreement to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C. A recent UN report shows that the current pledges will result in temperature rises of over 3°C.
The resource scarcity, political instability and ecosystem collapse that this would cause is unthinkable and terrifying. Scotland has a significant historical responsibility for the mess, so the least we can do is be at the forefront of cleaning it up.
The labelling of climate change as a ‘future problem’ is misleading. Already, at just 1°C of warming, people around the world are losing their lives, their livelihoods and being forced to leave their homes and communities.
However, without urgent action this will get considerably worse. Delaying now will push the burden, and the cost, of even more radical responses onto today’s youth and prevent opportunities to adapt to a destabilised climate.
As climate campaigner Bill McKibben remarked recently, “if we don’t win quickly, we will never win.” The vast majority of emissions must be phased out within the next decade, or it will be too late.
I can’t take the ‘Year of Young People’ seriously until decision makers take into account the real impact of their actions on our future. The best way the Scottish Government could honour the ‘Year of Young People’ would be to publish a Climate Bill that allows us to feel hopeful about that future.
YFoES supports local youth campaigning for environmental and social justice.
Kate Whitaker is Network Development Officer at YFoES and YFoEE.
A version of this piece was published in The National on Saturday 20th January 2017.