Young people want renewable energy

A new report on UK energy policy, written by 16-25 year-olds, is calling for the rapid uptake of renewable energy and for greater youth consultation on energy and climate policy

The first ever report from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) Youth Advisory Panel, Energy: How Fair Is It Anyway?, looks at the UK’s energy policies from the perspective of people who will spend their adult lives living with the consequences of decisions being made right now.

The findings, which were presented to energy and climate change minister Charles Hendry, show huge support for renewable energy among young people. Of those questioned, over 90% were in favour of solar power, offshore wind, and wave energy as a fair’ energy technologies. Opinion was most divided on nuclear energy, while only 2.2% supported coal.

Focusing on whether or not different ways of generating energy are fair to young and future generations, the report states that the government must not lock them into ecological debt where natural resources are depleted beyond the Earth’s ability to regenerate them. The government must ‘think hard before cutting investment in renewables’, the youth panel states. ‘No defecit is so large that our future should be gambled.’

The document also acknowledges a need to reduce energy demand and improve efficiency, and is based on DECC’s 2050 Pathways calculator ñ a project and interactive tool exploring different ways to reach the UK’s target of reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.

Organisations such as the National Grid, the Centre for Alternative Technology, and the BEDzed eco-housing development in South London, were visited by the panel so that they could investigate energy and climate issues first hand. They also met with experts, industry, pressure groups and innovators, to look at how we keep the lights on in 2050 while reducing carbon emissions.

Youth panel member Tom Youngman, 17, who also represents Eco-Schools and Green Flag Schools, said: ‘As young people we have the opportunity to view these long-term decisions with a much increased sense of urgency and tangibility. We do not want to inherit a diminished planet, as it often seems we are being asked to, and this is a huge step towards ensuring a sustainable and equitable future for our generation and subsequent generations.’

Guy Shrubsole, director of the Public Interest Research Centre, which was consulted by the panel, described the report as a clear call for a rapid and progressive transition to a low-carbon future. ‘As someone who will be turning 65 in the year 2050,’ he said, ‘I hope the Government heeds their recommendations and ensures our generation is not burdened by ecological debt.’

The report is a first of its kind achievement from a demographic keen for recognition in climate change politics and it attempts to put the cracks in existing government policies under the spotlight. ‘[It] is a remarkable piece of work,’ said energy and climate change minister Charles Hendry, ‘which gives a fresh perspective on our energy policies.’

Although there are aspects which allow the report to stand alone, it shadows DECC’s existing policies. These are less ambitious when compared to reports such as Zero Carbon Britain 2030, in which the Centre for Alternative Technology outlines how we can achieve a 100% reduction in carbon emissions within 20 years.

Martin Kemp, coordinator of the Zero Carbon Britain 2030 project, said of the youth panel: ‘The group made a valuable contribution to filling the gap as a critical friend’ of government.’ He added: ‘Subsequent work could provide more radical and clearer policy recommendations, ready to be implemented.’

However, Martin praised many of the report’s proposals: ‘Its suggestions to implement the FSC mark as the minimum standard for timber products in the UK, to develop carbon capture and storage technology as open source, to limit the use of biomass in phasing out coal, and also their strategies for gas use, are indeed nuggets of wisdom.’

The youth panel’s report also highlights the potential for offshore wind in the UK, which was missed by DECC’s 2050 Pathways calculator. ‘Now is the time to be investing in our future by tapping the UK’s unparalleled offshore wind resource,’ said Guy Shrubsole. ‘It has the potential to allow us to become a net exporter of clean electricity as part of a pan-European super grid.’