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Climate Election: Why the 2020 Irish General Election Must be About Climate

Originally written on the 15th of January

“A future to Look Forward to”. Fine Gael’s 2020 election slogan made me rub my eyes in disbelief.

Did Leo decide to wake up? Have Fine Gael adopted policies in line with IPCC science?

Of course not.

Fine Gael have entirely forgotten the climate crisis.

Last year I joined over 50,000 young people in Ireland and 7.5 million across the globe who marched for climate action, and I strike from school every week in front of my local County Council office. Why? The world’s best scientists warn that if we don’t act now we might not have a future at all – let alone one to look forward to.

We’re just two weeks into 2020 and already an area of land three times the size of Belgium lies in flames in Australia. People are dying from the smoke from the fires – smoke which is visible from space and which has discoloured the rapidly melting New Zealand glaciers over a thousand kilometres away. The world’s second largest city, Jakarta, faced intense flooding, leaving over sixty dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. By 2050 the city will almost certainly be permanently underwater.

The media scrambles to predict what this election will be about. Shockingly, I’ve found no direct mention of what it must be about: climate breakdown.

Ireland right now faces a number of urgent crises – from housing and homelessness, to our dysfunctional health system, to our inhumane treatment of asylum seekers, to deteriorating rural infrastructure and of course, extreme inequality.

The climate crisis will exacerbate each and every one of these. Ocean temperatures hit new records in 2019, and this will cause extreme weather events to increase in both intensity and frequency. The WHO predicts that the climate crisis will cause hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, and it is inevitable that those who are the worst off will be the most affected – in Ireland, the 10,000+ who are homeless, and the 760,000+ who are living in poverty. The UN estimate the number of climate refugees by the end of the century to be anywhere from 280 million to a staggering 1 billion. Ireland is currently struggling to deal with a few thousand.

The school strike movement is apolitical, but what we seek to accomplish – safeguarding a livable planet – requires radical policy changes, and therefore a new kind of politics.

While the crises facing Ireland have specific causes, they share a common thread with climate breakdown. They stem from the outright failures of the systems underpinning contemporary society which are no longer fit for purpose. All parties in Ireland follow the same impotent strategy: slapping a band-aid on the symptom without addressing the root cause.

In addressing the climate crisis, and by ensuring a just transition, we will also address the other crises.

To do this, we need to find politicians who will enact bold, courageous and visionary change.

The school strike movement is apolitical, but what we seek to accomplish – safeguarding a livable planet – requires radical policy changes, and therefore a new kind of politics.

Currently, none of the Irish parties are offering anything close to the visionary change necessary. If FG, FF, Labour, the Greens, any of the parties were to offer this kind of visionary change, my peers and I would gladly support them.

This election is the world’s first climate election. 2020 is year zero – emissions must not only peak this year, but decrease by 7.6% per annum for us to stay below 1.5°C. This election gives us an extraordinary opportunity to lead the world.

We were the second country in the world to declare a climate emergency after the UK, but our government decided to issue new fossil fuel drilling licenses in the weeks that followed. Merely an oversight from the party which believes in “a future to look forward to”, I’m sure. We were one of the world’s first countries to release a comprehensive climate action plan, but our government approved a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal in Shannon shortly after. Our government’s doublethink has placed us in the company of failed states as regards climate action and will cost the taxpayer half a billion in EU fines later this year.

I will not be voting on February 8th – I will be 9 months and 23 days too young. It is likely that by the time I can vote in the next election 1.5°C of warming will be locked in. We are predicted to exhaust our carbon budget for 1.5°C in 2028, but this relies on the dubious assumption that carbon emissions do not increase over the next 8 years – a reversal of a decade long trend.

This election is first and foremost a climate election. We need voters to demand visionary change and to hold politicians accountable. This is an election where the majority of people voting won’t be the ones who will live with the consequences. It’s an election where the lives of children and future generations are are at stake.

A future that we can look forward to? Only if you vote for climate.

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