UOW students fight for a healthier planet
Grace Mahon and Ben Hamill call on the Australian government to put net-zero target into legislation and to recognise the role of universities in tackling ‘climate emergency’
“The young people of Australia will inherit the world left by the decisions made today. We believe young people are not only victims of climate change but critical contributors to climate action. We are agents of change, innovators and educators. It is our role to influence global decision-makers and ensure accountability so that future generations can prosper.”
These are the opening words of the Australian Youth Statement, the climate change report that the country coordinators presented at Glasgow’s 16th United Nations Climate Change Conference of Youth (COY16), the youth precursor event to the 26th United Nations Conference of Parties (COP26), which took place from 28th to 31st October.
Our Australian contributors to the report are the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) students: Grace Mahon, Benjamin Hamill and Sarah Vogel.
Grace and Benjamin have already made headlines after consulting with more than 2500 people in the community – students, academics and local citizens and policymakers – to formulate a Youth Climate Statement (PDF), a set of climate change commitments of the university, as well as demands on a local, national and global level.
Their five-point manifesto, which was endorsed by 3600 people, commits UOW to carbon neutrality by 2030, with the University’s efforts in meeting this target led by Professor Timothy McCarthy, Director of Sustainable Buildings Research Centre, and UOW’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Patricia M. Davidson. The statement lists changes around sustainable transport to and from the University and effective energy management as some of the most important goals to be achieved.
Grace is a 19-year-old commerce student at UOW, and 21-year-old Ben studies psychology. Their passion for climate action has stemmed from their love for Australian nature, sport and travelling. Grace takes part in triathlons and loves the ocean; Ben spent some time at the Great Barrier Reef when he was 12, which has left him “devastated to see the scale of damage”. But they’re certainly not naïve. For them, climate action is multi-faceted and requires a mix of strikes and protests with an informed action – putting pressure on politicians, being mindful of where your money goes, and living sustainably.
“The most important thing we can do as young people is to put pressure on companies by voting with our money. I try to be financially smart and invest in institutions that have a positive social impact,” Grace said.
Climate action also starts with individual consumer choice.
“When commuting, I always make a concerted effort to catch public transport or to use active transport, and I feel that it is a relatively easy and achievable thing all of us can do. I've become mindful of my diet, reducing the amount of meat I eat,” Ben explained.
Even though both are adamant that the road to reducing emissions in Australia will be rocky, Grace and Ben stay cautiously optimistic.
“I'm hopeful for the future, given the real passion that I see in people younger than myself. It's the tipping point for concrete action. The governments cannot ignore us now. I'd also like to have the importance of the university sector recognised, as it plays such an important role in coalescing research and experience to guide both policy and action,” Ben said.
“I know that our voices really can make a huge difference and lead to a renewed commitment for a healthier planet. I believe that the net-zero-by-2050 target should be in legislation since, without any requirement to legally-bind future governments to it, there is no credibility to the plan,” Grace added.
UOW YOUTH CLIMATE STATEMENT
- Work towards carbon neutrality by 2030.
- Improve energy management and have a renewable power purchasing agreement by 2025.
- Support sustainable transport strategies.
- Cultivate research excellence in climate change solutions.
- Educate the community about climate change.