18 Jul 2019

Youth Parliament 2019 declares climate emergency

From The House , 2:00 pm on 18 July 2019

Youth MPs beat their actual MPs to the punch by declaring a climate change emergency at Youth Parliament 2019 this week. Youth Press Gallery member Sophie Dixon* observes how the younger generation are vocalising their stance on climate change. 

Youth MPs debate during Youth Parliament 2019.

Youth MPs debate during Youth Parliament 2019. Photo: Supplied / Samuel Robinson

Standing in the place of the Minister for Climate Change Youth MP Molly Doyle took a bold stance on climate change.

“Our planet is in a state of emergency,” she told the debating chamber of Youth MPs. 

“Climate change is killing, destroying and taking what’s important to us.”

Doyle is one of 120 Youth MPs taking part in Youth Parliament 2019. It’s a triennial event that aims to bring the voice of rangatahi into the heart of Parliament by handing it over to 120 young MPs for two days. 

MPs select youth representatives who then engage in a broad programme which includes a legislative debate on a mock bill (this year's topic was the Sustainable Energy Bill) and a general debate. 

Molly Doyle (front right) is the Youth MP for Green Party co-leader and Minister of Climate Change James Shaw. Doyle is surrounded by the other Youth MPs representing the Green Party including Luke Wijohn (far right back).

Molly Doyle (front right) is the Youth MP for Green Party co-leader and Minister of Climate Change James Shaw. Doyle is surrounded by the other Youth MPs representing the Green Party including Luke Wijohn (far right back). Photo: Green Party / Zoe Robinson

It was during the general debate that Luke Wijohn, Chloe Swarbrick’s Youth MP, moved for the Youth Parliament to declare a climate emergency.

“I’ve marched in the streets like many of the MPs sitting here,” said Wijohn. 

“I think deep down the reason why we marched is because we’re scared. I'm scared that my awa will be poisoned, that my maunga will be polluted, that my marae will be underwater and that my iwi will starve." 

The motion was a way for youth to regain power and show those in power that change was possible, he said. 

“We are clearly living in a climate emergency, but no one seems to want to actually acknowledge that.” 

Chloe Swarbrick listens to a submission in Parliament's Transport Select Committee

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

A swift, rousing chorus of ayes and scattered noes had the debating chamber standing and clapping for the motion in under two minutes - two minutes for youth to take decisive action on climate change. 

“It shows immense amounts of leadership from these young people who are acutely aware of the impacts of climate change on their future and their present and I would hope if our rangatahi can show this kind of leadership then at the very least those who call themselves the adults should buck up their ideas,” said Green MP Chloe Swarbrick, who attempted to pass a motion to declare a climate change emergency back in May. 

A social media post from the Youth Press Gallery on the Youth Parliament's climate emergency declaration encouraged party leaders to follow their example. 

ACT Leader David Seymour responded with an "Oh ffs" (for f**k’s sake) and said the Youth Parliament's action was "laughably naive".

“They don’t appear to know what an emergency is,” he said. “Climate change poses no immediate threat to human life.”

“It’s a pity they chose to focus on something they don’t know much about.”

National MP Nicola Willis in Select Committee

National MP and party spokesperson for youth Nicola Willis. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

National MP Nicola Willis also denied the young people were setting an example for NZ Parliament. 

“What difference does declaring a climate change emergency make?” she said. 

Willis suggested the focus should be on the Zero Carbon Bill, which National supported through its first reading. 

“That’s about action, that’s what I think is most important,” she said. “All New Zealanders care about climate change.”

But Wijohn said there were still some who needed convincing. 

“We still have climate [change] denial, which is insane ... we need ideological shifts before we can see climate action and structural change”. 

Swarbrick’s failed motion and criticism of the government’s efforts to promote clean vehicles and offset emissions shows that changing ideologies is not easy. 

The UK, France, Canada and Ireland have declared climate emergencies, with many cities and provinces around the world also taking a stand. 

“New Zealand cities that declare a climate emergency have immediately backed it up with action,'' said Wijohn.

Both Auckland and Dunedin recently implemented climate change action plans following their emergency declarations. 

Youth MP for Kris Faafoi, Sophie Handford, made the message clear. 

“Climate Change is a humanitarian crisis, an environmental crisis, and a social crisis,” she said. 

“This is a question of which side of history do you want to be on?”

That's the question young leaders are now waiting for Parliament to answer. 

*Sophie Dixon is a member of the Youth Press Gallery which takes the role of independent media reporting on Youth MPs and Youth Parliament 2019. This article was commissioned specifically for The House.