By Rania van den Ouweland

As part of our work with schools in Brighton & Hove, we were involved in organising an opportunity for secondary students to ask questions to MPs on the climate and biodiversity emergency.  

On Friday the 12th of February, schools from across Brighton & Hove came together virtually to ask important questions about the climate emergency to their three local MP’s, Caroline Lucas (Green Party), Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Labour), Peter Kyle (Labour), as well as a local councillor, Samer Bagaeen (Conservative).

All secondary schools were invited to submit a question and 3 students from each school attended the event. We were delighted to have 9 local schools taking part. A film of the event was sent round to schools after the event to use in class to help raise awareness of the climate and biodiversity emergency.

This was a golden opportunity to directly ask the MP’s about their thoughts on how to take action on climate issues such as energy, recycling, waste, making climate education and action part of the school curriculum, individual action vs collective action on climate change, preserving wildlife in Sussex and the effects of Covid on environmental goals to achieve in Brighton before 2030.

This event was such an amazing opportunity to have us, young people living in Brighton, directly involved and at the forefront of climate action. What better way to engage climate conversations, than in schools, a place where young people are here to learn from each other, a place to discuss and present ideas to fellow students and teachers?

Including climate education in the school curriculum was one of the key questions of this event. The MP’s were asked the following questions, amongst several more:

“How do you think the school curriculum could be changed to reflect the climate emergency? “and “What would be the most effective thing we can do as eco reps in school to create a positive impact on the climate?”

To which Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton and Hove powerfully answered:

“Speak out and know your power.

“I really want to pay tribute to the Youth Climate strikers who I think have done such an extraordinary job of putting climate change at the top of the political agenda. Know that you can make a difference.

“Schools can be a real microcosm in term of changing the environment for the better. So yes, you can get those solar panels on your school roofs, but you could even do something so simple as to change where the electricity comes from”.

Caroline Lucas is also a vocal advocate for a GCSE in Natural History to allow the population to reconnect with our natural environment.

Two other key questions that were asked were:

“What are you going to do to make our community more eco friendly?” and “What advice would you give young people who want to make a difference in their community?”

Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Labour MP) is keen for more low-car neighbourhoods around St. George’s Road located near Brighton College. He also encouraged young people to engage with policy makers and take direct action, such as through the Youth Strikes and other actions leading up to the COP26. He continued, “Individual actions are important but actually we need to be working here to get collective action to change the way that we are consuming things in our society”.

On a question about the decrease of wildlife in the UK, and specifically in Sussex and how to rewild it, Caroline Lucas warned us that

“The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world and we are failing nationally on 17 of the 20 biodiversity targets”.

She stressed the importance of local action such as getting involved in the rewilding project at the Waterhall Golf Course that aims to restore grassland in the hope to see adders, butterflies, dormice. The council is also discussing have a rewilding officer to lead on these projects in the city.

The Q&A was then followed by a poll section during the session with the MP’s asking the young people to answer their poll question. These covered a range of topics and some very interesting answers were given:

Here are the poll questions and outcomes of the polls:

Peter: As your MP, what do you think should be my top priority for the climate emergency agenda?

Outcome:Pushing government to get gas out of or homes and businesses (50% of the votes)

Caroline: Do you think we should lower the voting age to 16?

Outcome: Yes (90% of the votes).

Samer: Some experts say that three things people can do for the climate emergency are: eating less meat, flying and driving less, and having fewer children. Which, if any of these do you expect your generation will be doing less of than my generation?

Outcome: I will eat less meat (80% of the votes)

Lloyd: What motivates you to take action, hearing from politicians, peers, friends, teachers, experts?

Outcomes: Experts, peers, experience

It was amazing to see all these students united in a space to ask questions about issues that are so fundamental to be tackled at the moment. It is important to keep this momentum going, to continue to involve young people in local politics, to keep pushing for demands and keeping our politicians accountable to their words.

The teachers also seemed very enthusiastic by the outcome of this event. One of them said: “Talking to my students afterwards they were really buzzing. They thought it was a great event, they felt listened to and energised to get more involved in further actions/events. Holding an event like this during the monotony of lockdown really lifted the sprits all round.”

2021 is a big year in terms of how we step up to the challenges. At a global level the COP 26 meeting in November may see international efforts really pick up speed and pace. At a national level the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill gives our MPs the opportunity to support a Parliamentary response to the emergency. And locally, our council has just heard the report and recommendations from our city’s first Climate Assembly (which happened last autumn) and are due to publish the city’s Carbon Neutral 2030 plan by the end of March.

Additionally, the first Youth Assembly on Climate in the country took place from September till December 2020 and is looking to continue with an ambassador project in schools in the future.

Finally, there is a Q&A with three local councillors for Brighton and Hove on the 19th of March on tackling the climate and ecological emergency. The event is free, and you are invited to submit a question to ask to the councillors’ present.

Council Q&A: tackling the climate emergency in Brighton, Hove & Portslade Tickets, Fri 19 Mar 2021 at 12:30 | Eventbrite