Britain’s role in the environmental crisis is an influential one, especially inside of the European Union. Regardless of where you stand on the Brexit spectrum, it’s only fair to ask whether this will continue to be the case after our departure from the EU. The organisation’s impact on British environmental standards has been significant, but will our protections be changed in the near future?
Britain’s relationship to the environment is paradoxical to today’s youth. Although the UK was the first state to declare a climate emergency last year (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-48126677), 2019 also seemed far too late to start drastic action. We are holding the prestigious COP 26 this year in Glasgow, but the government appears woefully unaware of its importance and unprepared for it – perhaps Brexit serves as a massive distraction. (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/04/sacked-cop-26-chair-claire-oneill-berates-boris-johnson-over-climate-record). Subsequently, young people all around the world have begun raising questions as to the efficacy of the international economic system, capitalism, and why we aren’t being listened to by our political leaders. Young people, like the environment, cannot be ignored any longer. “Business as usual” is a luxury we can no longer afford!
Disentangling the UK from the EU’s environmental and climate policies, a direction Boris Johnson appears more than willing to take, puts the public’s health at risk. The EU has cleaned the UK’s beaches (https://inews.co.uk/news/environment/englands-beaches-cleaner-ever-tough-eu-bathing-water-rules-532790), enforced a ban on single-use plastics (https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20190321IPR32111/parliament-seals-ban-on-throwaway-plastics-by-2021) and generally imposed tough environmental standards. The UK was the first country to commit to the IPCC’s 2050 carbon neutrality goal but the recent Committee on Climate Change (the independent body responsible for advising the government) reports indicate we have fallen behind and won’t be able to meet the 2050 target (https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/reducing-uk-emissions-2019-progress-report-to-parliament/). With another five years of Conservative government ahead of us, young people are wondering whether our current environmental protections will be traded off in exchange for quick and short-term economic growth.
Last week after being sacked from her position as head of COP 26, Claire O’Neill wrote a critical letter to the Prime Minister. O’Neill notes a “huge lack of leadership and engagement” from the part of Boris Johnson and further claims the cabinet sub-committee on the climate conference had not met once since its creation. (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/04/sacked-cop-26-chair-claire-oneill-berates-boris-johnson-over-climate-record) For young people, the letter also raises concerns over whether the global system we live in is even capable of addressing climate change. Capitalism incentivises the extraction and continuous damage of the environment in order to create capital. Although there has been a great deal of change in the way governments around the world deal with the environment, it has arguably come at too slow a pace to deal with fast-approaching climate change.
In contrast to the world’s sluggish approach to the climate crisis, young people are finding ways outside of the traditional arena to demonstrate their discontent. Today’s Extinction Rebellion Valentine’s Day protests are a great example of this. Climate strikes have been occurring all around the world as part of the #FridaysForFuture movement. Their surging number of protests globally and participation by young people disprove the supposed political apathy today’s youth are claimed to suffer from. Just last week in Germany, activists occupying and protesting at major coal mines were able to partially disrupt government plans to keep mines running at maximum output for the next decade. (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-02-02/activists-occupy-german-coal-plant-in-protest-police-say) Despite massive demonstrations and overwhelming social media presence, young people simply don’t feel they are being listened to by the government on Brexit or climate change. Environmentalism, just like Brexit, has galvanised today’s youth in Britain to engage themselves politically. For this to actually influence the political system in the future, we must allow their voices to be heard in ways that go beyond a ballot paper.
Written by Chris Hofmann