I am one of the many people who have been inspired by Greta Thunberg and her rallying cry for urgent action on climate change. I don’t mind admitting that when I met her in parliament today with Caroline Lucas, Ed Miliband and the speaker John Bercow I was a little starstruck.
Just two months ago, two thousand young people in Oxford, along with many others across the country, walked out of school on strike, to demand our Conservative government starts taking climate change seriously. All this inspired by her lone protest last August.
What Greta shows to us all is that the myth that young people don’t care or are not engaged in politics is false. Young people care about their future, they care about the future of the planet, and they care that our generation is failing to protect it.
Since 2015, this government has been failing the climate. It’s effectively banned the cheapest form of renewable onshore wind, it’s slashed subsidies for solar power, scrapped zero-carbon homes, set meaningless targets on phasing out petrol and diesel cars, all while pursing new fossil fuels like fracking.
To suggest that young people aren’t ready to vote at 16 is now clearly a fallacy. Imagine what a difference they could make to our political landscape if they were able to tip the balance in favour of MPs who put their concerns, climate change being top, first.
In February, I led a debate on climate change in the House of Commons. The first on the main floor of the house in over two years. The shocking lack of government debate and action is what led me to do it. But it is unacceptable that it took place only after young people started to say this isn’t good enough.
What we’re seeing instead is those who are not taking this seriously resorting to personal attacks. Journalist Brendan O’Neill described Greta Thunberg as “chilling” with her “monotone voice” – this is frankly unacceptable.
Greta credits her Aspergers as having helped her see things from a different perspective, and seeing as her way of thinking may finally have made politicians see the writing on the wall, she should and must be praised. While Greta is being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, what is Brendan O’Neill achieving?
We must now seize the opportunity created by Greta. Politicians from all sides of the political divide must come together to tackle the biggest issue affecting not just the UK, but the world. First, the UK must declare a national climate emergency; local councils up and down the country are already doing so, but for the governments of the world to take note the UK must take the first step forward.
Next, the government’s advisory body the Committee on Climate Change is about to report on the steps needed for the UK to have net-zero carbon emissions. This is the opportunity to act. The recommendations must be taken for what they are: an urgent to-do list for this Tory government.
First, they must pass a new law mandating the government to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, or earlier if possible. The Tories must also reverse some of the most damaging decisions they’ve made for the climate, reversing subsidy cuts, bringing back zero-carbon homes, banning fracking and bringing forward the date for getting rid of fossil fuel powered cars. The Liberal Democrats have been at the forefront on climate change, calling for action long before Labour or the Tories, and we intend to stay there.
Young people like Greta care for our future and no matter how much politicians talk about the economy, unemployment or immigration – where more often than not they’ve come to the same conclusions – what good are they if we don’t care about our planet? If climate change is allowed to continue unabated our economy will crash, unemployment will rise and we’ll have millions of refugees displaced by extreme weather events. Climate change should be the number one issue in politics right now: Greta Thunberg has realised it, its time our politicians did the same. There is no Planet B.
Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon