Young green campaigners were given prime position at the Greater Manchester Green Summit in Salford following the success of their Youth Strike for Climate.

Mayor Andy Burnham gave the opportunity to 17 young people to open the summit on stage at the Lowry on Monday in front of a sold-out Lyric Theatre.

Emma Greenwood, Youth Member of Parliament for Bury, and spokesperson for Youth Strike for Climate in Greater Manchester, gave the first speech before introducing the metro mayor on stage.

Mr Burnham thanked young people for having taken “Brexit off the news” for a day when they protested in March, and he added: “because this challenge is bigger than Brexit.”

A big part of the summit was revolving around young people, with school children invited to attend events. Some primary school pupils had their own stall in the lobby of the Lowry, inviting attendees to join them in discussing causes, consequences and solutions to climate change.

Emma Greenwood said Mr Burnham gave her an incredible opportunity by inviting her to open the summit.

She added: “I think it shows the fact that he wants young people to be able to have a say. It is our future, and these politicians, and influential people, need to start taking into account that it is our future. We want a safe future, longer than just our generation but for many generations to come.

“The decisions that older people and older generations are making now are going to have effects on us as young people, and we need to start demanding that they think about the grander effects of the decisions they’re making.”

She explained that the five-year plan proposed by Greater Manchester Combined Authority to start tackling carbon emissions is not ambitious enough.

She said: “I think change needs to happen now. We are the first and last people who can be the change we want to see. 

“So overall, we need to start demanding that companies take responsibility for for the waste they produce, and their environmental footprint overall. In the next five years, drastic action needs to be taken, in order for our environment not to have detrimental damage.”

Mr Burnham said: “When I first  got the agenda for the summit, I looked at it, and I saw a lot of boring people like me, speaking one after the other. And I said to the team, that’s not right. Young people have found their voice in recent weeks, and they’re the people who have got most to lose from people not taking the whole climate change issue seriously. 

“So it just felt right to me to have young people’s voices on that stage from the very beginning, because we need to listen to them more, perhaps, than the usual people in suits like me. And that’s what we were trying to do.”

He gave a lengthy talk to school children and said he could see change already happening. He added: “Young people are more fired up about it than people, let’s say, over thirty, and I think it’s exciting really, because they’re demanding change.  

“For those of us who were born in the 1970s or before, we’ve been used to a certain way of living and perhaps we’re a bit too stuck in our ways. But if we stay stuck in our ways, we’re actually damaging their lives by doing that. 

“So some of these nettles need to be grasped, around polluting vehicles, around plastics, around clean energy and renewable energy. 

“You know, we’ve got to take a firm stand, that’s why I, as mayor of Greater Manchester, said that fracking is something we’re going to rule out. Because that’s about saying, we’re clinging on to the past. And if you do that, it damages the prospect of the next generation, and I’m not prepared, myself, to sign up to that.”

Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency and UK Commissioner to the Global Commission on Adaptation, said of the young people campaigning: “I think it’s fantastic, we need to harness it, and make sure that everybody is thinking of taking action at all levels. 

“We’ve got 12 years, maximum, according to the IPCC, to get on track. We need to be thinking not just about low carbon, but making sure that our investments, our cities, our communities are resilient for the climate change which is going to come our way. 

“And the more we have young people, leaders, thinking about the action that you need to take today, the more we are likely to see the right steps taking place.”

Young people across the country took part to a first school strike for climate on February 15, and a second, global one, on March 15. Emma Greenwood said: “We’ve done two strikes so far, and on the second one, there was drastically more than the first one. 

“I think it shows the fact that it’s a growing movement, young people uniting together to demand a safer future. It is something that everybody is trying to get involved in because it’s something we’re united about. Climate change is going to affect everyone, rich, poor, any sort of sexuality, religion, anything.”

(image credit: Laura Joffre)

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