In this contribution to IF’s Worldwide Blog Week on what an economic recovery from COVID-19 should look like for younger generations, Caitie Gillett, Programme Manager for the Conservative Environment Network, lays out her vision
Action is required
As we map out our recovery from COVID-19, an increasing number of Brits believe action on air pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change is critical – indeed, polling suggests that many believe that this action must be a critical part of our response to the pandemic.
For young people, who have borne the brunt of so many of the restrictions we have faced, a post-pandemic recovery must include urgent action to protect and enhance the environment. Providing them with a secure future means nothing if we do not pass on a healthy and stable planet to live on.
Environmental action now mainstream
We are not yet doing enough, but across the political spectrum in the UK at least, environmental action has gone mainstream. Those who may have previously derided it as a pursuit exclusively for an elite fringe, are now much more likely to see action as an economic opportunity too.
Indeed, if “building back better” is to mean anything at all, it must incorporate environmental regeneration into spreading opportunity across the UK and the world, creating sustainable jobs and enabling everyone to live better, healthier and happier lives.
If realised, this shift in approach is exactly what young people need too. Pragmatic action on the environment that goes hand in hand with a strong economy would help deal with a whole host of concerns that we have about our future: delivering good green jobs; building sustainable, affordable housing; improving health outcomes; and improving our living standards.
UK doing well
On climate change, the UK has made great progress in decarbonising its economy and has demonstrated the economic case for taking action – since 1990, the UK has seen the biggest slash in its emissions than any other G7 nation, with a cut of almost half at the same time as growing its economy by 73%.
This drop in emissions has in part been due to the drastic reduction in the use of coal for power and its replacement by renewable sources. We still have a long way to go to reach net zero by 2050, but the Government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution offers a compelling vision of how to deliver further emissions’ reductions across the economy in the coming years.
For young people?
What does that mean for young people? Reducing – and ultimately stopping – our net greenhouse gas emissions will not only limit future generations’ exposures to the impacts of climate change, such as extreme weather, huge economic and political instability and food-chain insecurity; it will also boost our economy, making the UK more prosperous, with a host of sustainable jobs in clean industries such as hydrogen and offshore wind, improved travel infrastructure, and better homes to live in, all whilst protecting and enhancing the environment.
The transition must benefit young people
It is essential that the transition to a greener future benefits young people and that must start now. Climate action must become embedded across government and the private sector, instead of being “just a phase”. This is a multi-decade mission, but young people need to know right now that, for example, undertaking qualifications in green skills offers them a route to a secure job and a better future.
Government must deliver on “building back better” from the pandemic by closing the disconnect between reality and a slogan which young people may understandably treat with a healthy dose of scepticism.
UN pledges must be met
If the young people of today are to see a net zero world, we need to step up action from the entire global community as many developing countries simply do not have the resources to do it on their own. In 2009, UN member states pledged to raise $100bn per year by 2020 to help developing countries with climate change adaptation and mitigation – that pledge still has not been met.
We must emulate our domestic climate successes across the world by ensuring that our allies make good on our commitments to providing fair and sustainable annual climate finance for developing countries so the whole world can end its contribution to global warming.
Be positive about the rewards
Young people can be forgiven for feeling pessimistic – so much of the coverage of climate change and the state of the environment is consumed by fear and negativity. While the challenge is enormous, the rewards for meeting it are huge. In a post-pandemic world, climate action must go hand in hand with economic planning.
This is critical if we are to improve the lives of young people today, but also to shape a greener, healthier and more prosperous planet to pass onto future generations.
That is a prize worth having; we must begin to strive for it now.
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