Voting age should be lowered to 16 to avert climate breakdown, think tank says

Without urgent action by the current political leaders, future generations will face huge environmental damage, report warns

Emily Beament,Phoebe Weston
Tuesday 17 September 2019 17:23
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The report is calling for votes at 16 to give a voice to those who will face the consequences of what older generations are doing to the world (Extinction Rebellion, file photo)
The report is calling for votes at 16 to give a voice to those who will face the consequences of what older generations are doing to the world (Extinction Rebellion, file photo)

The voting age should be lowered to 16 because today’s young people are the ones that face a “toxic inheritance” of environmental crises, a leading think tank has said.

Climate change, the loss of wildlife and damage to the oceans and soils will be problems that the next generation will have to deal with, a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has warned.

Without urgent action, future generations will not just be economically worse off than their parents, they will face huge challenges from environmental damage, the report found.

This will be partly the result of greenhouse gas emissions caused by older generations and “decisions taken by elites in these generations, most of whom have only a small chance of being alive by 2050”, it said.

As a result, the authors call for votes at 16 – as is already the case for Holyrood and local elections in Scotland – to give a voice to those who will face the consequences of what older generations are doing to the world and give them a say on their future.

It also calls for a “Future Generations Act” which would provide a formal legal recognition of the right of future generations to live in a world with a stable environment, and make sure policy-making takes that into account.

Greater value should also be given to environmental projects which have long-term benefits for future generations in the process of making public investment decisions, it says.

The report comes ahead of global climate strikes later this week when children and students across the UK are set to walk out of lessons and lectures to call for urgent action from politicians to tackle the climate and wildlife crises.

In the UK, one of the demands of the climate strikers is to lower the voting age to 16, in recognition they have the greatest stake in the future.

Luke Murphy, Head of IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission, said: “Current and future generations face a toxic inheritance as a consequence of environmental breakdown. Political leaders and policymakers must recognise the duty they owe to the next and future generations. Crucially, they must act to protect them by giving legal recognition to their rights and by giving them a voice in our political system.”

In order to limit environmental breakdown younger generations will have to use far smaller quantities of resources over their lifetimes than older generations, the report states. They will have to build sustainable economic models and cope with issues such as food prices pushed up by extreme weather hitting production and the emotional toll of dealing with rapid change and damage to society.

Shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs, Cat Smith, said: “Our young people are a force to be reckoned with, who are taking to the street, leading the climate strikes and using their voices to influence positive change. Yet instead of being supported and valued, young people continue to have their voices ignored by this government.

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“At the next election, Labour will set out a bold policy agenda that will radically change young people’s lives, including tackling the climate crisis, scrapping tuition fees, and extending the vote to 16-year-olds.”

But a Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The age of 18, not 16, is widely recognised as the age at which one becomes an adult. Full citizenship rights – from drinking, to smoking, to voting – should only be gained at adulthood. What is vital is that we educate people from a younger age about democracy and give them the confidence and enthusiasm to participate when they are 18.

“The Government has developed a variety of programmes to deliver this and works in partnership with schools and civil society groups across the country.”

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