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Blog: Climate challenge daunting for future leaders

By Daisy Haywood
Oxford Climate Forum

The Oxford Climate Forum is the country’s highest-profile conference on climate change organised by students

1.6 billion people go without electricity each day. 1 billion people go to bed hungry each night.

The world population is to reach 10 billion by 2050.

Electricity demand will be 6 times higher in 2050 than it was in 2000. And we have approximately 5 years to stop irreversible climate change.

These were just some of the cheery facts we were greeted with at the Oxford Climate Forum last weekend – a high profile conference organised by students, bringing leading thinkers and doers together to discuss key environmental concerns facing the global community.

From barristers, to business men, campaigners and policy makers, they all reminded us we certainly have plenty of things to be concerned about.

All the young students, including myself, who sat in the town hall, face an uncertain future. A future where our choices and control will be limited by those decision-makers today who cling to business-as-usual.

Instead of defending the rights of future generations and the planet, governments the world over act weakly and lethargically, seeking to defy the earth’s clock.

I do often wonder what it will take to make the world wake up to this intergenerational injustice, let alone the inequity between developed and developing countries.

John Ashton, the FCO Envoy on Climate Change, spoke of the role of young people in finding an intensity of emotion that can drive ambitious change.

Many speakers applauded the youth delegation at the climate change negotiations in Durban this year, for their freshness and unwavering commitment that they bought to an otherwise stifling UN process.

This sense of agency and empowerment is certainly something we need to invigorate in every young person.

This is not only about challenging flawed decisions and lacklustre policies, but about challenging the entire system, because let’s face it, the current one is failing us.

Students at Oxford University were joined by journalists, local activists and clean energy entrepreneurs

As John Vidal, the environment editor at the Guardian said, capitalism is ‘Robin Hood in reverse’.

It steals from the poor to give to the rich and has put us on a path heading towards dangerous climate change and deepening inequality.

I don’t confess to have the answer, but I do strongly believe we should be building on the conversations initiated by the Occupy Movement and other commentators, and create a different theory of prosperity that is not so focussed on the endless pursuit of economic growth.

Despite the massive challenges that lie ahead of us, the Oxford Climate Forum did give me hope.

We heard how new low carbon technologies, like pay as you go solar projects for Africa, and innovative institutional proposals, like Polly Higgins’ Ecocide, can help transform the world in a way that we want, rather than in a way which we have no control over.

Most of all, what gave me hope was looking around the room at my fellow young delegates.

Whilst we may be inheriting a heavy burden of responsibility that is daunting, scary and unfair, if we act in solidarity and with bravery, the future need not be so bleak.

PODCAST: Oxford Climate Forum organiser Luke Hughes and environmental policy expert Tom Burke from E3G discuss the role of students in climate activism, and explain why they both think the future of effective policymaking lies with today’s youth.

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