Students march through the streets of Wellington during the climate strike. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Students march through the streets of Wellington during the climate strike. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

OPINIONPoliticsMarch 7, 2020

Why leading youth climate groups aren’t making 2020 political endorsements

Students march through the streets of Wellington during the climate strike. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Students march through the streets of Wellington during the climate strike. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Generation Zero and the School Strike 4 Climate movement have helped put climate change permanently on New Zealand’s political agenda. But here, two leading figures explain why they won’t be telling young people how to vote in the election.

Aotearoa’s environmental movement has a proud and long history of remaining nonpartisan. It is something that is increasingly rare internationally.

Amongst the hyper-partisanship of the US, their largest youth climate group, the ‘Sunrise Movement’, announced not only their endorsement of senator Bernie Sanders for president, but is now campaigning for him directly. Given the toxic state of partisan politics in the US, we cannot blame young Americans for wanting the reassurance of a different political leader.

But the situation in Aotearoa is different, and New Zealand’s youth groups will not follow suit. New Zealand is different to the US. We’re proud of the difference in our political culture. Last December parliament near-unanimously passed the Zero Carbon Bill, something completely unfathomable in the United States.

This was in no small part due to the fact that since 2017, the youth wings of three major parties – Young Labour, the Young Nats & the Young Greens – all independently lobbied for an ambitious, effective Zero Carbon Act; acknowledging that climate change is an issue that affects the future of all young people. While the end result was not as ambitious and effective as is needed, the context where such a consensus on any climate is even possible speaks volumes about the uniqueness of New Zealand’s political discourse.

Our leaders aren’t climate deniers, Parliamentary Select Committees force MPs to listen to the stories and perspectives of those most impacted by climate breakdown, and politicians largely debate how, not whether, to respond to the climate crisis. Things must get better, but they could also be a whole lot worse.

Members of Generation Zero outside parliament (Photo: Supplied)

Aotearoa’s climate movement, and the organisations that comprise it, have remained almost unanimously non-partisan, and we at Generation Zero and SS4C are clear we will take the same stance, not only because it works, but more importantly because climate change can never be a partisan issue. 

We don’t endorse any one political party or candidate, because every politician has a duty to make decisions that will enhance the wellbeing, safety and security of future generations, and a responsibility not to sacrifice a hopeful future for short-term political gain.

Debate about climate change is about how we respond to climate change, not whether or not we respond to it. Most of our major media outlets now refuse to publish climate denial, and have been participating in global climate reporting pushes. A healthy climate debate entails political parties debating effective solutions to the climate crisis, and the climate movement constantly holding all them all accountable.

Our independence means  we are able to hold them accountable, from a position of credibility. We speak for ourselves, as concerned youth desperate for a liveable future, not on behalf of any political establishment, or corporation.

When particular parties fail, we don’t give up hope. We might release scorecards that expose a particular candidate’s fundamentally flawed climate plan (or lack of one). We might protest outside a party leaders office when they fail. We can encourage people to pledge their vote for the climate this election, partly to demonstrate to parties with lacklustre climate policies that they need to either improve or be swept away into history.

But we will never pretend any single political group will solve the climate crisis – because  creating and implementing solutions to the climate crisis requires all of us, and thus we know that sole reliance on a single organisation or political party will never bring the solutions we need so desperately. 

One party cannot solve all our problems, and one party cannot be held as the pinnacle of climate action. We’ve seen how coalitions, relationships and tension have compromised the morals certain parties have stood on for years, and it is because of this that we cannot rely on a single group to work with us on this issue. 

It will always be our role to criticise, dispute, congratulate and hold accountable those in parliament, and we would be unable to do this if we broke our nonpartisan kaupapa. By doing this, we keep the most pressing issue of our time at the forefront of our movement. 

Keep going!