Where to find hope in the fight against climate change – Ellie Bird

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg has inspired her generation to act. Picture: AP
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg has inspired her generation to act. Picture: AP
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The example of Greta Thunberg and Edinburgh’s own climate strikers are proof that experience should not be equated with longevity, says Ellie Bird.

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for me – taking on the leadership of the SNP group, as well as the responsibilities of leader alongside the depute to cover Adam McVey’s adoption leave. Although a temporary appointment, it has provided me with a fascinating insight into what it is to fill a position of leadership as a young woman. Or should that be inexperienced?

Cllr Eleanor Bird is leader of the SNP Group and councillor for Forth Ward, Edinburgh City Council

Cllr Eleanor Bird is leader of the SNP Group and councillor for Forth Ward, Edinburgh City Council

The truth is, it is increasingly and necessarily young people that we are looking to for hope, positivity and progress and, in recent months, not least 16-year-old student and climate activist, Greta Thunberg. This super powerful (actually young) woman, has inspired her generation to reject the status quo and demand something better from those of us that have come before.

Greta’s actions, and those of her peers across the globe, are steeped in experience. The experience of fear for what their lives might look like, for the expectations they can’t take for granted, the rights to which they are no longer entitled and the future they can’t guarantee.

At last month’s full council, we heard from three articulate and passionate youth climate strikers; young leaders in our city speaking candidly about their experiences of climate change and imploring us as their politicians to listen – and that’s exactly what we are doing.

In light of the climate emergency declared earlier this year by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, the tenets of social and environmental sustainability are at the heart of everything we do as a council. Edinburgh has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030, one of the most ambitious targets worldwide, and the Programme for Government, launched last week, outlines the Scottish Government’s plans for tougher proposals to help enable this.

The Programme has committed welcome investment of over £500 million through a Bus Partnership Fund for local authorities across Scotland, to improve bus priority infrastructure and the reallocation of road space for buses, to address the negative impacts of congestion and increase usage. This prioritisation of sustainable public transport will be fundamental to reaching our 2030 goal, as transport remains a key contributor to Scotland’s overall emissions.

Very much with this in mind, we are moving rapidly towards the intertwined and ambitious development of a Low Emission Zone, City Centre Transformation project and City Mobility Plan, all of which are rooted in removing reliance on the private car and promoting alternative modes of travel. These are designed to enhance health and wellbeing and, ultimately, radically reduce pollution in the capital. As the fastest growing city in the country, it is our duty to act now to future-proof Edinburgh for generations to come and it is only through a shared vision with our citizens that this will be achieved.

None of us can make the significant change necessary on our own but, as a community and a city, we can encourage everyone’s buy in. As another inspirational young woman, 15-year-old youth climate striker, Ester Silverton, told the council: “I will not back down from the challenges this world presents us ... we are calling on adults to unite behind the young people.”

So let’s not fall into the trap of measuring someone’s value by how long they’ve been on the planet, but rather by the contribution they make to it, whatever that may be. Because this is it – there is no planet B.

Cllr Ellie Bird is leader of the SNP Group and councillor for Forth Ward at Edinburgh City Council