15 march 2019

Do UK politicians support the climate strike? Party leaders respond

Today, youth climate strikers are demanding action on climate change. Our panel of politicians answer the activists

Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon, Vince Cable and Siân Berry, The Guardian, Fri 15 Mar 2019

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour: It’s past time all of us stopped looking the other way

By taking to the streets today to make their voices heard, young people are educating us about how important tackling climate change is to their generation. They are right to be worried about what kind of planet they will inherit and right to demand far-reaching action. Governments cannot sit back, leaving major decisions to market forces. It hasn’t worked and it never will. Polluting corporations will never do anything serious to solve the crisis.

Climate change presents terrible risks. But because it demands such massive change and government action, it’s also an opportunity to transform our economy, making it cleaner, healthier and fairer. Labour already has among the most ambitions carbon reduction targets in Europe and radical plans to create a zero-carbon emission economy by 2050. We plan to achieve that by ushering in a “green industrial revolution”.

We have the plans to create hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs in the renewable energy sector. That will help meet our target of 60% of energy to come from low-carbon sources within 12 years. The next generation will be trained in the skills needed to work in offshore wind, tidal lagoons and solar energy. Transport currently accounts for a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. By investing in public transport and cycle paths we will reduce our reliance on carbon-emitting vehicles. All new homes built will be zero-carbon too.

The UK is home to some of the least populated areas of Europe, and under a green industrial revolution they will be allowed to thrive, not destroyed. Every national and local park in this country has been a victory won by communities through struggle. In the 1930s, working-class people staged a mass protest fighting their way up Kinder Scout in Derbyshire to fight for the “right to roam”, paving the way for the establishment of our national parks years later by a Labour government. And it was Labour’s postwar prime minister Clement Attlee who said that the countryside was not just “a means of producing food, but part of our great national heritage of beauty”. Building on this legacy, a Labour government will ensure that farming conserves and creates safe habitats for birds, insects and other wild animals, and encourages the growth of wildflowers.

Labour has a strong record of international leadership on the environment, and action on climate change will be at the heart of our development and trade policies. We have a role not just in protecting and promoting biodiversity in the UK but protecting it in other countries and in the oceans that connect us. It’s past time all of us stopped looking the other way, learn from the passion and wisdomof young people and join them in actively organising for a better future.

Jeremy Corbyn is MP for Islington North and leader of the Labour party

Conservative party

The Conservative party was invited to participate, but declined.

Nicola Sturgeon, SNP: It’s right we are all challenged to see where we can do more

Climate change is the most serious issue facing the world and is a truly global challenge. We have a moral responsibility to do what we can to prevent and mitigate the effects of climate change for future generations. Scotland has been praised as a world leader for the action we are taking to address the issue. We have introduced a new climate change bill that contains the most ambitious statutory targets of any country in the world for 2020, 2030 and 2040, and will mean Scotland is carbon neutral by 2050.

However, the urgency of climate change means it is right that we are all challenged to constantly reassess our approach and to see where we can do more.

It is of course extremely important that school pupils attend their lessons, and as first minister, I could not condone repeated absences during term time. But in Scotland our schools teach and encourage our young people to engage in public debate and to learn about the issues that concern them.

Lowering the voting age to 16 as we have done since 2014 has only enhanced our political debate and in 2018 we celebrated the Year of Young People. The year gave young people new opportunities for their voices to be heard in all parts of our society and helped foster better understanding, cooperation and respect between generations. On a matter of such importance as climate change, it is inspiring that young people are engaged, interested and ready to take action themselves to hold world leaders and governments to account. Later this month I will be meeting a group of young people from across Scotland who have been active climate change campaigners to discuss the issue and hear their concerns.

We must listen to the voice of the next generation and involve them in decision-making and policy development. It is their planet to inherit, and their passion to protect it should inspire us all.

• Nicola Sturgeon is first minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP

Vince Cable, Liberal Democrats: It’s our responsibility to support young people

The students who are taking part in this climate strike are right to highlight what is the most serious issue facing any of us. Just as with Brexit, young people will be most acutely affected, and it’s our responsibility to support them. Liberal Democrats invested heavily in a cleaner environment during our period in government, setting up the Green Investment Bank, encouraging homes to cut emissions through the Green Deal, and cutting plastic bag usage by 85% through the 5p levy.

Since Liberal Democrats left government the Conservatives have abandoned the positive record of the coalition. They have effectively banned onshore wind turbines, slashed subsidies to solar power, pursued an ideological obsession with fracking, cut incentives for electric vehicles, scrapped zero-carbon homes, cancelled rail electrification projects and approved a new runway at Heathrow.

The hostility now levelled at young people who are taking a stand on this issue demonstrates that these strikes are noticed by those in power. It’s now up to Westminster to act responsibly – coming together across parties – to act on the demands of those who care about our planet. The failing Brexit project has crowded out too many important issues over the last three years, and it’s time our political system addressed itself once again to climate change.

The Liberal Democrats will continue to be the greenest party in Westminster, and to argue that climate action can best be achieved at a European and international level – working with our neighbours rather than turning our backs.

• Vince Cable is leader of the Liberal Democrats and former secretary of state for business

Adam Price, Plaid Cymru: Time is running out

If I were a school pupil today I would be striking against climate change and would make sure the whole school was striking with me. The reason couldn’t be simpler: time is running out. Time is running out to make the changes to our way of life, how we produce and use energy, how we travel around this Earth, how we build and warm our homes, how we use our natural resources.

The threat is bleak: whole states disappearing underwater because of increases in sea level; not just more drought, but more starvation on an international level; widespread disappearance of species and an environment that is far more challenging to life on this Earth. We’re not just on the brink of ecological catastrophe, we’re in the middle of one.

But what I’ve seen so clearly by these school strikers so far is that from speaker after speaker, young person after young person there is such an outpouring of eloquence, of vision, of positivity. To stand up and fight for the Earth is the noblest of all causes. Climate change faces humanity as a whole. It should be the main discussion across chambers, but Brexit has sucked the oxygen from our politics. It feels as if we should skip a generation in politics. Young people are demonstrating the vision and determined leadership to make is possible to make significant and swift progress towards a low-carbon existence. To follow their lead means that we can’t wait until Westminster wakes up. We all must be brave.

The small town of Machynlleth in mid-Wales has been one of the very few towns in the world to declare a climate emergency, with ambition to make its buildings eco-friendly, encourage renewable energy developments and ensure its pension fund divested from fossil fuels. What got Machynlleth to make the commitment? It was a petition signed by 500 local people; a small community-sized step with a worldwide impact.

• Adam Price is leader of Plaid Cymru

Siân Berry, Green party: Youth strikers know the planet can’t wait

Hope. That was what I felt when I entered Parliament Square last month to be greeted by hundreds of young people at the first Youth Strike 4 Climate in Britain. That day one young person carried a sign that read: “We are missing our lessons to teach you.” The question now is whether Westminster will listen to the wisdom of youth.

Last year the UN warned we have a limited window of opportunity until 2030 to take positive action to limit climate catastrophe. Since then, councils across the country have declared a climate emergency with many committing to gold-standard climate action – often prompted by Green councillors. But parliament is still dragging its heels.

This week, the chancellor tried to fob off the rising tide of youth activism with token policies that don’t go far enough. He said he plans to make travel companies offset carbon, yet is still building new runways. He talked about biodiversity, but kept quiet about his devastating cuts to Natural England. And his government is doing nothing to break the toxic hold fossil-fuel bosses have on our lawmakers.

Youth strikers across the world know the planet can’t wait. I’m proud it’s my colleague in parliament, Caroline Lucas, demanding the government launch a Green New Deal with money ploughed into thousands of new green jobs and transformed local energy and transport networks. If ministers are serious about securing the planet for our children, they will act now.

As a Green elected to represent millions of young Londoners, it’s amazing to see them make these demands of me and my political colleagues. It will be a privilege to stand beside our young people again today as they strike for their futures – I implore those in power to listen to their demands.

• Siân Berry is co-leader of the Green party

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