Maddie Moate, Mikaela Loach and Mya-Rose Craig

Young activists urge greater action on climate change

Panellists at the Youth Against Carbon Conference (YAC Con) called for a range of measures to keep climate on the national agenda. Here is what they discussed: 

Last night young climate activists called on the UK’s Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng MP to implement a range of actions to help keep climate on the national agenda and not be derailed by COVID-19 during a panel discussion at the Youth Against Carbon Conference (YAC Con) – a new platform launched to get young voices heard on climate change. The event, which was streamed live on Instagram and YouTube, highlights the essential role young people are playing in the fight to protect the planet. 

The panel, chaired by TV presenter Maddie Moate, featured Edinburgh medical student and climate justice and anti-racism activist Mikaela Loach; Mya-Rose Craig (aka Birdgirl) – a prominent naturalist, ornithologist and conservationist, and founder of Black2Nature, which seeks to make nature more accessible to Visible Ethnic Minority (VEM) groups; and Amy and Ella Meek – founders of the charity Kids Against Plastic, which is inspiring the nation to take action against plastic pollution. The lead panellists were joined by three inspirational teens who secured their panel places following a competitive process. They were Lysander Bickham – a student and eco-entrepreneur from London, whose business Leo’s Box is the youngest run BCorp in the world.  Fellow Londoner, Zaqiya Cajee – an active campaigner on fast fashion and founder of Swop It Up, an initiative encouraging teens to run clothing exchanges in school.  Completing the panel was Crawley-based, Mya Bambrick, a passionate conservationist and wild-life blogger, vlogger and photographer.

Image: Mikaela Loach speaking at the Youth Against Carbon Conference

Mikaela Loach reflected on her time spent in the rain camping outside the offices of the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy last year to protest about the collusion of the government with the fossil fuel industry. Speaking last night, Mikaela said: “Three out of nine of the people on the climate change committee have investments in the fossil fuel industry. If you are investing in the fossil fuel industry, which is destroying the planet, how are you going to be able to put people before profit?”

Fast fashion was highlighted as a key environmental issue. “Planned obsolescence in clothing needs tackling,” said panellist Zaqiya Cajee.  “This needs to be designed out of clothes, rather than having clothes specifically designing to degrade. And we need to work to ensure pre-loved clothes are an acceptable option. It’s also important we tax the manufacturers, not consumers, if we’re to really affect change.” 

Ensuring more diversity in the climate change movement was also raised, with Mya-Rose Craig highlighting: “Diversity is a real issue in a lot of western countries, including the UK. The environmental movement is very homogeneous, very white, vey middle class. This (the movement) is not sustainable as you are only hearing from a small group of people.”

Amy and Ella Meek urged the government and world to keep climate change a top priority. Amy said: “We have seen the world come together to fight coronavirus. Now we need a similar movement to fight the climate crisis.” 

Ella went on to stress the importance of staying engaged, suggesting everyone should keep reading up on the issue to build their knowledge and also look at images to drive passion.

Maddie Moate, Lysander Bickham, Mya-Rose Craig and Zaqiya Cajee

The event was attended by UK Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng MP, who said: “Tackling climate change is a huge opportunity for young people to get involved in one of the greatest struggles. There’s a long way to go but a growing appreciation of the problem and urgency in tackling it.” 

Priorities and actions identified and agreed on include:

  •       Removing conflicts of interest from within government, with those responsible for government climate policy not being able to be heavily invested in the fossil fuel industry
  •       Greater focus on nature and conservation in secondary and heavily urban schools
  •       A move away from fast fashion consumption by making ‘pre-loved’ clothes more culturally and socially acceptable
  •       More action from business and government to fight the war on waste, with mandatory company reporting on waste and plastic use
  •       Continued campaigning to keep winning hearts and minds on the war on waste, despite Covid 19
  •       Ensuring more diversity in the environmental movement to make it more sustainable and to give everyone a voice
  •       Better communication of the difference everyone can make in fighting the crisis– whether that be making small changes in behaviour, getting involved in community groups or taking a more active role at a national and local level

These recommendations and ideas will help form a YAC Climate Change Action Plan which organiser Zurich UK intends to share and champion to Government, as well as to the wider business community, customers and partners.

“Through YAC Con we wanted to offer an opportunity for young eco-campaigners to get their opinions and ideas heard,” added Laura McAlpine, head of sustainability at Zurich, who organised the event. “As an insurer we see first hand the devastating effects of climate change, both here in the UK and globally, on our customers and communities.  We take our role in mitigating the risks very seriously and believe we can bring about real change by fuelling the passion and drive of these amazing young people.”