COP26: World leaders must match drive of school students - Lorna Slater

Last Friday I had the pleasure of a Zoom meeting with a group of school students from Deans Community High in West Lothian to talk about the COP26 climate conference and the changes that they want to see.

It was part of The Moment campaign, which is run by the Scottish Children’s Parliament, and was one of the most positive and inspiring discussions I've had since being elected as an MSP.

The school students who I met, Nadia, Tyler and Ayesha, were full of big ideas. It was clear that they had done their homework, and had lots to say about the importance of climate education, tree planting and reducing greenhouse gases.

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These school students aren't waiting around. They have taken their message right to the top. Despite everything that has been going on, they have already met with the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Queen. In fact they told me that they had gifted the Queen a rowan tree to help her to fight climate change.

Boris Johnson greets Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison upon his arrival at the COP26 summit

It was a great event, and it was exactly the sort of conversation that should be compulsory for everyone attending COP.

It is the young people from Deans and schools across the world who will be living with the consequences of climate change. They know that words are easy, and that they are not enough. They know that the issue has never been a lack of promises or targets, it has been a lack of action.

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We cannot afford to stand still or, even worse, go backwards. That is why a lot of us were shouting at our screens in frustration last week when the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced that he would be spending tens of billions of pounds on road building while freezing fuel tax and cutting Air Passenger Duty on domestic flights.

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It's hard to see how these kinds of policies could possibly be compatible with the climate obligations that the UK has to meet. If this is the level of urgency that Downing Street is bringing to COP then it won't be enough.

When it comes to our environment, we need real and fundamental change, and not just a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. What we needed from the Chancellor was a bold and historic statement about the crisis we are facing, with the investment to match.

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We needed to see far greater levels of support for renewable energy, active travel, nature restoration and public transport. That is what we are doing in Scotland with the powers available to us and what every government should be doing.

The last 18 months have emphasised how interdependent our lives are and how none of us are safe until all of us are safe. It is true of pandemics, but also climate change. When we burn fossil fuels in one country the impact can be felt by people around the world. That is why it is the countries with the biggest footprints that need to do the heaviest lifting.

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One of the school students I met, Tyler, said that “even just one community, over a long period of time, could make a forest.” He’s right. It's time to make those forests. The school students I met are going above and beyond to do their part to build a fairer and greener future. It is time for world leaders to do the same.

Lorna Slater is a Lothian Green MSP and Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity

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