This post is by Matt Adam Williams, associate director of A Focus on Nature.
Young people voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, so we have been handed a raw deal by the decision to leave. That our voices and interests are regularly excluded from political conversations is nothing new. We hear increasingly of the housing crisis facing millennials, as well as the mounting cost of education and the decline in wages compared to our parents’ generation.
Young people won’t get off lightly in the future
One issue where the injustices facing us are not often discussed is the environment. We are already facing the consequences of the decline in wildlife and habitats in the UK and elsewhere in the world. Our ability to grow food, drink clean water, breathe fresh air, as well as our mental and physical and health, all relate to, or depend on, a healthy natural environment. And we are already less connected to nature than previous generations.
Evidence shows that, in the UK, 60 per cent of the species we know about have declined in the past few decades. The habitats they rely on are disappearing or being degraded too. Globally, many people believe we’re witnessing (and causing) the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history. We might be able to scrape through these problems for a few more years, but young people like me, and our children in the future, won’t get off lightly if this trend continues. Our views, concerns and the risks we face have to be represented and taken more seriously by politicians.
A new vision for nature that needs both policy and creativity
That’s why A Focus on Nature, the UK’s youth nature network, has published its Vision for Nature today (#VisionforNature). This is our vision for the future of nature in the UK and the steps we think are needed to get there. It states that, for the recovery and safeguarding of nature to be a top political priority and for young people’s interests to be properly considered, we need a combination of legal tools with teeth, and improved engagement, incentives and support. There is a growing movement of young people standing up for nature and wildlife. Our love of our native wildlife and the natural world is what has motivated us to set out this vision. And we’ve deliberately chosen to use not just policy but also creative writing, art and photography to express it. Evidence shows, and we believe, that it’s as important to appeal to hearts as well as heads, and that we’ll need all our creative talents as a society if we’re to tackle the issues we face.
What we are asking for:
- youth policy forums and hearings, organised by select committees and politicians in all four countries and parliaments across the UK;
- an environment and future generations ombudsman to scrutinise UK and devolved legislation for its potential impacts on the environment;
- a legal recognition that governments should hold the environment “in trust for the next generation” (as Sir David Attenborough has said in relation to our report);
- a long term goal for the recovery of nature with five yearly legally binding targets for nature’s recovery in the UK, based on the carbon budget model.
Our report has drawn on the views of around 200 young people, but we are reflecting much wider opinion. New polling commissioned by A Focus for Nature reveals that nine out of ten 16-34 year olds think it’s important for politicians to take care of the environment.
Politicians need start talking to young people
One of our recommendations is for a 250 year plan for nature (the government has just delayed its proposed 25 year plan). Although we know this is beyond the realms of normal political thinking and timescales, long term vision has been set for the challenge of climate change, and we believe the nature challenge warrants similar, radical ambition.
We’d like to see long term thinking adopted by all four countries of the UK. The Welsh Well-being of Future Generations Act is a good first step but we need to go much further.
If they want to start taking the views of young people seriously, all politicians, of every party and across all the parliaments of the UK, should read our report and talk to us about how we can make our vision a reality. For nature and our future’s sake, we need to start those conversations now.
Image: Aah-Yeah via Flickr, CC2.o