The voting age should be lowered to 16 to give young people a voice on their future in the face of environmental breakdown, a think tank has urged.
Today’s youngsters and future generations are facing a “toxic inheritance” of environmental crises caused by climate change, the loss of wildlife and damage to the oceans and soils, a report from IPPR warned.
Without urgent action by the current generation of political leaders, future generations will not just be economically worse off than their parents, they will face huge challenges from environmental damage and its impact on society.
The report is calling 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.
And it wants to see greater value given to environmental projects which have long-term benefits for future generations in the process of making public investment decisions.
The report comes ahead of global climate strikes on Friday, 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.”
The report warns that younger and future generations will have to experience impacts on the environment which are 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”.
In order to limit environmental breakdown younger generations will have to use far smaller quantities of resources over their lifetimes than older generations.
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.
“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.”