Senedd 2021 elections – How young people in Wales can change our relationship with the environment

7 May, 2021
By Rhia Danis (WWF Cymru Communications and Outreach Intern)

The youth climate strikes catapulted the issue of  climate change and nature loss onto a global stage, sending a profound message that the future of our planet is a vital and pressing issue that can no longer be ignored. The movement sparked global conversations which demanded that individuals, governments, and business improve our relationship with the natural world.

Gone are the days of seeing environmentalists as tree-hugging hippies. This new generation of radical and passionate climate activists are using protests, politics, and social media in empowering ways.

Around 10,000 people gathered in London for the youth climate strikes in 2019, and students from all over the world – including America, Germany, India and Japan – came together to show the power of protests.

Greta Thunberg’s commitment to climate justice reached an international audience and a number of young activists joined her in leading the way for change.

Here in Wales, the next government’s decisions will arguably impact young people the most. This year, 16  and 17-year-olds have been able to vote in Welsh elections for the first time, allowing them to take action for the future.

With all the challenges that the past year has brought, we need more than ever to come together to listen and support each other.

The past year has brought up job anxieties and the need for better mental health support. Many of us have learned that moving away from Wales is no longer necessary for career progression. Remote working has become a norm and the way in which we protect our environment has never been so important.

The push for greener jobs is one that will help our economy, contribute to our goal of being a sustainable nation, and protect our wildlife. Investing in nature and green spaces makes Wales a nation we’re proud of. Over the next 12 months, we have the opportunity to show leadership on the global stage. Global leaders will gather in China for the COP15 Biodiversity Summit and, closer to home, the UK will host the COP26 Climate Summit in October. Wales must show true global leadership by setting ambitious commitments to action – but that is only possible if we as young people take part in the movement.

What matters to young people

2019 UK-wide research found that young people rated environmental problems such as the climate crisis and global annihilation of wildlife even higher than the general population did, placing the issues second behind Brexit. Almost half of 18 to 24-year-olds chose environmental issues as one of the nation’s three most pressing concerns, compared with just over a quarter of the general population.

COVID-19 lockdowns also brought the environment to the fore, with striking images from across the globe of major cities and landmarks experiencing significantly cleaner air. In addition, images of wildlife moving into areas that had until recently been busy with human activity, such as the Llandudno goats, helped to sharpen the focus on environmental issues.

Focus groups with young people aged 16-25 across Wales,  conducted for WWF Cymru in 2020 by Beaufort Research, concluded that whilst a broad range of issues were important to most participants, environmental concerns featured prominently. When asked about their voting priorities, participants explained:

“I think if someone ( a candidate) offers anything to do with an environmental issue, like climate change or litter or something like that, I’d definitely consider it.” (Female, 19-21, Ceredigion) 

“Environment and climate because I think a lot of the other issues hang off that one in some way or another.” (Female, 22-25, Aberconwy)

WWF insights data confirmed that nearly 60% of young people aged (16-29) agree that green jobs must be a priority for the next Welsh Government. And a 2020 YouGov survey found that a huge 85% of young people (aged 16-24) support Welsh Government increasing investment in protecting and restoring nature in Wales.

Voters in Wales have shown that we care about environmental issues and never has there been a more critical time to make the change we need to see to protect the planet for future generations. It looks very likely that, with 16 and 17-year-olds getting the vote, and with a growing movement of environmentally conscious young first-time voters in Wales, the environment could feature heavily in the composition of our future Senedd.

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