Earlier this month (October 2020), some of the UK’s leading young climate activists including Mikaela Loach (22), Mya-Rose Craig (aka Birdgirl) (18) and sisters Amy and Ella Meek (17 & 15) called on the UK’s Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng MP to keep climate at the top of the national agenda – and to make sure that efforts were not derailed by Covid19. In a project created to highlight the crucial role young people play in the fight to protect the planet, the young activists were part of the Youth Against Carbon Conference (YAC Con), organised by insurer Zurich UK, a major new platform to get young voices heard on climate change.
In the carbon-neutral event, streamed live on Instagram and Youtube, Loach, Craig and the Meeks were joined by three inspirational teens: Lysander Bickham (17) is a student and eco-entrepreneur from London, whose business Leo’s Box is the youngest run BCorp in the world and fellow Londoner, Zaqiya Cajee (17), founder of Swop It Up, an initiative encouraging teens to run clothing exchanges in school. Completing the panel was Crawley-based Mya Bambrick (18), a passionate conservationist and wildlife blogger, vlogger and photographer.
The recommendations raised by the panel are ambitious but crucial, highlighting the intersections between the climate emergency with political systems, education, waste and unsustainable levels of consumption, diversity and representation and community action. The recommendations will help form a YAC Climate Change Action Plan which Zurich UK intends to share and champion to government, as well as to the wider business community, customers and partners.
One of the demands called for removing conflicts of interest from within government, with those responsible for government climate policy detached from heavy involvement in the fossil fuel industry. The issue speaks particularly closely to Mikaela Loach, an Edinburgh medical student and climate justice and anti-racism activist who has amassed a huge following on Instagram for her campaigning work. Last year, Loach camped outside the offices of the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy to protest about the collusion of the government with the fossil fuel industry. “Three out of nine of the people on the climate change committee have investments in the fossil fuel industry,” she says.“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?”
Ensuring more diversity in the climate change movement was also raised. “Diversity is a real issue in a lot of western countries, including the UK,” says Mya-Rose Craig (aka Birdgirl), prominent naturalist, ornithologist and conservationist; Craig has just returned from an expedition to the Arctic Circle with Greenpeace to investigate climate change. She is also founder of Black2Nature, which seeks to make nature more accessible to Visible Ethnic Minority (VEM) groups. “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.”
Moving away from fast fashion consumption – and by extension other forms of consumption – by making ‘pre-loved’ clothes more culturally and socially acceptable was a focus for panellist Cajee: ”Planned obsolescence in clothing needs tackling. 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.”
The activists also campaigned for greater focus on nature and conservation in secondary and heavily urban schools as well as 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, as well as better communication of the difference everyone can make in fighting the crisis was considered key, 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.
“We have seen the world come together to fight coronavirus. Now we need a similar movement to fight the climate crisis,” says Amy Meek, with her sister Ella founded the charity Kids Against Plastic, inspiring the nation to take action against plastic pollution.
”Through YAC Con we wanted to offer an opportunity for young eco-campaigners to get their opinions and ideas heard,” says Laura McAlpine, Head of Sustainability at Zurich. “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.