Plea to involve young people in tackling climate change

“Reaching out to young people for involvement has been one of the best decisions I think the council has made in their fight against climate change.”

Daisy Watson-Rumbold, chair of the West Sussex Youth Cabinet
Daisy Watson-Rumbold, chair of the West Sussex Youth Cabinet

These encouraging words from Daisy Watson-Rumbold, chair of the West Sussex Youth Cabinet, will no doubt come as a relief to a number of local authorities.

There have been concerns recently that the younger generation has not been engaging with the various climate change consultations opened up by the district and county councils. 

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Take Chichester, for instance.

In a district of around 130,000 people, only 200 shared their views on the council’s Climate Emergency Detailed Action Plan – and only four of those were under the age of 25.

Daisy, 17, puts that apparent apathy down to the attitudes of the past where councils have arguably only paid lip service to gaining the views of young people.

She said: “It’s evident that young people are passionate about climate change, and I know a lot of people are finding ways to make change through extinction rebellion, and following the likes of Greta Thunberg. 

“We, as a collective generation, are incredibly committed to ensuring the health of our environment. 

“But it has only just become normal for the council to connect so closely with young people.

“There are generational boundaries present in West Sussex, and as much as we’re working towards lessening them, the lack of response is likely a result of the status quo that has been held for so many years. 

“There’s a lot of apathy around government, especially local government involvement.”

Things seem to be heading in the right direction, though.

Daisy presented a report to a meeting of the county council’s cabinet in November – moments before sitting one of her mocks – which prompted suggestions that youth representatives could address the various scrutiny committees on issues of concern.

Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done.

While describing consultations as ‘a lot of fun to be a part of’, Daisy doesn’t think they are advertised widely enough or made accessible enough.

She added: “I’d say we need to reflect the passion of climate action in the council marketing of consultations.” 

While she believes the county council’s response to climate change could have been quicker, Daisy has been impressed with the work she has seen so far.

She said: “As someone involved in consultations and scrutiny boards, seeing the procedures that they are putting in place to save our environment is brilliant. 

“There is a strong sense of urgency and care for the future.

“With young people’s eagerness to transform the environment mixed with the council’s authority and policy abilities, I think we can make some real change.”

With the best will in the world, many of the people making today’s decisions will be long gone by the time Daisy’s generation take up the reins

In the meantime, there are fears to tackle and attitudes to change.

Daisy admits to being petrified by the apathetic way some people still view climate change and believes this makes a case for environmental education and even more need to promote climate action. 

She added: “Everyone has a different fear about the future regarding climate change. 

“For some people, it’s the world that they will bring their children into, for others, it’s the effects on our agricultural industry. 

“Personally, the nature we are surrounded by is so beautiful and offers us so many enriching opportunities, and to think we could lose all of it because of our own carelessness is really upsetting.

“My outlook is that all of these worrisome elements are fuel for change and that anyone who has a passion for change, should use it to educate others.”

The county council certainly seems to be breaking down barriers when it comes to involving young people in decisions which will affect their futures.

It’s something other councils and, indeed, the wider community could take on board.

Daisy said: “I want to urge every organisation that is tackling climate change – and if you’re not, you should be – to get young people involved.

“We have a lot to say, and we know a lot about what we want from a clean, sustainable future. 

“Listen to us, and we’ll listen to you. With respect comes change, with compassion comes transformation, and with hope comes a better future.”

The message is clear – the next generation is watching and we owe it to them to make them proud.