As a former teacher, it’s annoying to watch pupils miss lessons – but the protest against climate change is worth it

Gone are the days of David Cameron’s forays into the Arctic with huskies. The Tories are frankly as environmentally friendly as a dustbin fire

Layla Moran
Friday 15 February 2019 10:44 GMT
Rise for Climate: Protesters take to streets across the planet to demand action on environment

Climate change poses a serious threat to global prosperity, security and wellbeing. Leading climate scientists have recently warned that unless we act now, we have just 12 years before global warming risks drought, floods and extreme heat. Despite these stark warnings, the climate crisis is being almost entirely ignored by the Conservative government.

Of course, Brexit is one major reason why every other issue is being pushed to the side. Gone are the days of David Cameron’s forays into the Arctic with huskies. The Tories are frankly as environmentally friendly as a dustbin fire.

It is therefore no surprise to me that tens of thousands of students will walk out of lessons to raise awareness of the climate crisis, including in my Oxfordshire constituency.

Inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, who held a solo protest outside the Swedish parliament, this movement has now seen protests from 70,000 schoolchildren each week across 270 towns and cities worldwide.

As a former teacher, I know how frustrating it must be to watch students walk out of class, particularly if they have important exams on the horizon. But, given the gravity and urgency of this issue, I support this strike, and the students, wholeheartedly.

In fact, I think the strike is what we call in the profession a “teachable moment”. OK, lessons may not go to plan, but if I was their teacher, I’d be using the strike to discuss the physics behind climate change (I was a science teacher), the benefits of activism, and why this issue is important to them. I would also, however, encourage the students to be responsible. That means being safe and ensuring they make up for the work they will be missing.

At the end of the day, I trust the judgement of head teachers to decide if they should authorise the absences. However, I’m sure many heads will feel hamstrung by fears that they’ll be taken to court, as rules around absences are currently being interpreted particularly strictly. I’m concerned that many will be forced to come down hard on students.

This raises the wider point that head teachers should be given more discretion on whether to authorise pupil absences. I believe, as do the Liberal Democrats, that a system in which up to 10 days’ absence within term time per year can be authorised with the support of the head teacher – I believe this system would resolve the current issue.

That said, the message from these students in protest today is to demand better for our environment. When Liberal Democrats were in a coalition government from 2010, we more than trebled investment in renewable power, helped developed Britain’s offshore wind industry into a world leader and secured an EU-wide agreement on new ambitious climate change targets for 2030. But this progress is not being taken forward by the Tories.

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What we want to see is a carbon neutral Britain by 2050, backed by a suite of policies like new financial regulations to promote green finance and fast track away from fossil fuels to create an economy that is truly green and sustainable. It would be a radical solution to an imminent problem. My challenge to other parties is they need to be just as radical, and we cannot wait for them to catch up.

These strikes are a call for us MPs to take much stronger action on the climate crisis. In 2018, there were just three debates on climate change, and just one of those was in the main chamber of the House of Commons. While Labour MP Anna McMorrin’s Westminster Hall debate on COP24 – otherwise known as the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference – last month was excellent, it was only given one hour of parliamentary time. This is nowhere long enough for MPs to express their views, especially considering the UK has bid to hold the crucial UN climate change conference in 2020. That’s why I’m working with groups of MPs from all political parties to find a way to debate the issue on the floor of the house.

After all, that’s what the students are challenging us to do. Act now, for their futures. It is vital that MPs take the issue of climate change seriously and support the students in their activism. They can rest assured that I certainly do.

Layla Moran is a Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon

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