During the summer, the British Youth Council brought together a wide range of young people from various organisations to discuss, in depth, the government’s Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP) with ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
The roundtable discussion invited plentiful views and contributions. Most notably I think, was this common idea that climate action can bring a whole series of solutions and positive changes to many other constituent issues within society.
For example, the pledge made in the EIP to make “every household within a 15 minute walking distance to a green space” is most certainly a welcome ambition, however one could regard this as a benefit to our health and wellbeing more than its creation of new habitats and increased biodiversity. The introduction of a new natural sciences GCSE could be reflected as a greater need to modernise our entire curriculum than to simply teach young people more about the environment. Similarly, the transition to net zero also revitalises jobs and industries through making every job a green job.
What was emphasised in the discussion was the need to make climate action a catalyst for further social and political change – and in particular, with young people at the heart of these discussions.
Throughout the whole discussion however there was an underlying feeling of frustration amongst myself and the other young people present.
It would have been preferable to have more of an active role in the decision making – feeding in ideas directly to the creation of the Environmental Improvement Plan, rather than simply having a consultative discussion after the plans have already been made. I appreciate Trudy Harrison MP (ex-Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in DEFRA) for taking the time to talk with us, though I felt that the discussion would have been more useful if we had it prior to the EIP being produced so that our ideas could have helped shape it.
Despite this, what was particularly interesting was Minister Harrisons commitment to offer more young people work experience at DEFRA. Before the meeting ended, she was very keen to open up the opportunity for us to learn more about the department. From the discussion we had on youth voice earlier on in the roundtable, I suspect we did influence her interest in giving more young people opportunities to engage within the democratic process.
I hope that through this, it will help ignite further inclusion of young people within DEFRA and in government policy making more widely, because alongside decarbonisation we need democratisation – by doing this it will ensure that we achieve a fair and inclusive transition to net-zero.