General election 2024: Middlesbrough school children ask voters to prioritise environmental issues

Julia Barthram has been hearing from those from Tyneside to Teesside calling for the environment to be high on the political agenda

"Environment is health care, the environment is education," enthuses nine-year-old Miya.

"The animals in rainforests, they're losing their home because the rainforest is burning down," adds her classmate George.

The children, from South Bank Primary School, in Middlesbrough, were on a trip to the Life Science Centre, in Newcastle, when they shared their thoughts on environmental issues.

At Life, there is a wall where people can write their thoughts on the environment. It gives a voice to children who are too young to vote but will live with the impact of climate change.

"We've been told for the last 40 years turn off the lights as you leave the room or don't leave the tap running, it's the same rhetoric that's been going around for many years," Ben Rutherford-Orrock, contemporary science manager told ITV Tyne Tees.

"So if you're a kid that's already doing that and you see in the news that things still aren't going well, then it generates all this anxiety.

"What we try to do at Life is communicate the science, what is actually happening but also some of the solutions, but also give our audience a voice.

"Climate change is a scientific issue but, more so, it's political."

Young visitors to the Life Science Centre are being taught about environmental issues and solutions. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

It will be another two elections at least before these Year 5 children can vote, though the decisions made on 4 July will affect them and generations to come.

On the wall, 10-year-old Daniel writes what he would like the next Prime Minister to focus on.

"I've written to make things that use green energy, to help the environment and use natural energy like wind turbines and water dams," he said.

Gracie's message for those who are old enough to vote was: "Think about who would be the best option to care about global warming, to take action about it."

Durham University Professor, Gidon Cohen, has been researching the position of climate change in British public opinion and politics.

"It's an issue which is of concern to a lot of people, of course there are a lot of issues which are of concern to people," he said.

"Climate change is probably ranking behind the economy, cost of living, health and immigration."

Durham University Professor Gidon Cohen says climate change is a concern to many. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Professor Cohen said how people vote is not only based on their opinions but also the amount of difference between the parties."What we've seen at this election, particularly compared I think to the last election and elections before that, is bigger differences between the parties," he said.

"With the Labour Party saying we need to speed up, do things more urgently and drive growth based on the environment and the Conservative Party saying we need to slow down and be more cautious in the things we do.

"Once we get out to Reform UK there are some quite stark differences. So increasing politicisation of climate change."

What are the parties saying?The Labour Party says clean energy by 2030 is a key mission. It says it will create GB Energy, a state owned power company, partly funded by windfall taxes on oil and gas companies.

It aims to double onshore wind and planned spending on insulation, treble solar and quadruple offshore wind and it pledges to keep the UK’s current target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.The Conservatives say they would get to Net Zero in a more pragmatic way. The party says granting new North Sea oil and gas licenses is essential for energy security whilst the UK transitions towards Net Zero.

They promise to treble offshore wind and fast-track the approval of small, modular nuclear power stations.The Liberal Democrats say climate change is an “existential threat” necessitating “bold and urgent action”.

They will implement a one-off windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies. Their manifesto aims for 90% renewable power by 2030 and they will bring forward the target Net Zero emissions by 2045.The Green Party is more ambitious yet. It wants to reach Net Zero by 2040 and says the “solutions to the climate crisis are the same as those needed to end the cost of living and inequality crises".

It calls for 70% of power to come from wind by 2030 and it plans to fund this partly through a carbon tax on the biggest polluters.Reform UK want to scrap Net Zero targets altogether saying they’re economically too expensive.

It will ditch the ban on petrol and diesel cars altogether. It will fast track new oil and gas licences and will grant shale licences and is in favour of nuclear power.

No matter the result on election day, these are crucial years for the climate, according to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

"We are playing Russian roulette with our planet," he said. "The battle to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees will be won or lost in the 2020s - under the watch of leaders today."

There have been calls for political leaders to pledge "ambitious" action on climate change.

In Newcastle, gardeners say they also want to see politicians focusing more closely on climate change and environmental issues as general election day grows closer.

"I'm rather disappointed with the current offering of the parties in terms of their environmental pledges," said Jakub Konieczynski.

Jakub set up ReGreen, a community interest company, which installs planters with veg and flowers in paved over front gardens in Heaton.

Improving the local environment is something he wants to see on a wider scale.

The ReGreen team aim to re-green the streets of Heaton in Newcastle

He told ITV Tyne Tees environmental policies are the number one issue when deciding which party gets his vote.

"For most, maybe with the notable exception of the Green Party, it feels like it's almost an afterthought - it's a bit of a token gift thing at the end of the manifesto, as if someone thought 'oh yeah, the environment'," he explained. "I'd like to see a bit more bolder action."

The sentiment is echoed by fellow ReGreen team member Abbie Peel, who wants to see efforts on the ground reflected on a wider scale.She said: "I think it's moving up people's agenda and personally on my agenda it's really high up.

"I do a lot of things - I compost, I recycle, I cycle - things like that, and I think it would be nice to see a political party which matched my own efforts."

The UK holds this election as it recorded its warmest May and spring since records began.

All of the last 12 months were the hottest since records began and scientists forecast global average temperatures will exceed 1.5C above pre industrial levels as soon as 2033.

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