Are You a Voter for Climate?

Mystaya Brémaud
January 27, 2024

Image credit: Camile Libby

In the face of the climate emergency, we need politics to be doing something, and fast. So many of us have turned to protests and campaigns (like Teach the Future), yet under 24s are the age group least likely to vote. So what is going on? We are the generation feeling the urgency of the impending climate catastrophe the most, yet so many of us feel like we can't trust politicians to help us in this fight and that no matter how we vote, nothing we care about will change. But is this really the case? 

18-24 year olds are the age group least likely to say that UK democracy represents them (just 19%), compared to 46% of those aged over 65, yet we are also the age group least likely to vote. Only 50% 18-24 year olds voted in the 2019 election, compared to over 80% of those aged over 65. This is a big issue: it means that our voices as young people are not being heard in our current system of democracy. And because politicians do what they think voters want, this means if you aren’t a voter, politicians aren’t going to care about doing the things that matter to you. Research has shown that, over time “political parties start to form strategies and policies that favour those groups with relatively high turnout rates and ignore those who are less likely to participate”. This means that if we want politics to represent us and engage with the issues we care about, we need to start voting. It is one of the simplest and most powerful actions we can take.

Right now, “politics is getting in the way” of climate action. We have so many tools and technologies to mitigate the climate emergency, yet the biggest barrier to a clean economy is the implementation of policy and infrastructure (IPCC): something that politicians have huge responsibility for. 

So what can we do? The simplest and easiest thing we can do is to vote. That ensures that politicians know that the planet must be on their agenda if they want to win the youth vote. Being a voter is one of the most effective actions we can take to mitigate climate change. Sometimes even one vote can swing an entire election. The power really is in our hands! There are politicians from all parties that really care about climate change and are taking action. Our task as young voters is to boost these climate advocates and help them get into, and stay in, parliament.

If you don’t know who to vote for, then Vote Climate is the perfect resource for you. It informs voters on which candidate in their constituency is the most likely to win; and uses this to incentivise MPs to make their climate policy the best in the area.

If VoteClimate isn’t available, and you know you don’t want to vote for one of the bigger political parties, you could try voting for a smaller party or an independent candidate whose climate policies you support. If none of the candidates have a climate policy you want to support, it can still be worth voting, but “voting tactically” instead. By exercising your right to vote you are showing those who are elected that they don’t have as big a mandate as they could claim if you didn’t vote. If you don’t vote at all, then the winning parties will have a huge share of the votes, making them think they have been given a mandate to do whatever they want. If this mandate is given to a politician or party that does not have the climate on their agenda, it makes it much more difficult for us to make the positive change we need.

75% of UK adults are worried about the climate crisis, yet the people we currently elect into power do not reflect the severity of our concern. We can change this by taking action to vote, to give politicians the mandate to take extensive action on climate change. And if you want to reinforce your message to politicians that you’re voting with the climate in mind, you can sign pledges such as The Commitment, Greenpeace’s Project Climate Vote, and Hope for the Future.

If the cost of getting an ID is a barrier to voting, the National Union of Students’ Turn Up campaign is providing free citizen cards to anyone who needs them, ensuring voting is open to all.

And don’t forget to register to vote! In 2019, over 9 million eligible voters were prevented from voting due to not being registered. Don’t let that be you. Click here to register. If you live in England or Northern Ireland, you can register to vote if you are 16 or older, and if you live in Scotland or Wales you can register from 14. Why not be prepared!

If you aren’t able to vote, or would like to get more involved, you can join a political party as a member, which enables you to vote in party leadership elections and be part of shaping party policy ethos. You can join political parties for as little as £10 a year (or less!) and most parties have no age restrictions on becoming a member. So even if you’re too young to vote, you’re never too young to be approving policy! And keep an eye on Teach the Future’s website and social media, because soon we will be announcing an exciting new campaign for you to make politicians know the importance of climate through more than just your vote.

For those living in Scotland or Wales, you can start voting for the Scottish Parliament or Senedd Cymru when you are 16. For those in Northern Ireland, voting for both the Northern Irish Assembly and the UK Parliament begins at 18. The Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru, and Northern Ireland Assembly are responsible for education, healthcare, and transport in their countries, so being a voter in these elections gives you an even louder voice on the matters that have the biggest climate impact: transport, food waste, and education.

On top of this, voting for the elected local councilors across the UK can also influence these same key sectors in your local area. 80% of UK local authorities have made a climate change action plan . This is good progress, but we need more councils to take action: 139 councils still haven’t set a date for net zero. Local councils have influence over 30% of emissions, and this can be increased even more through getting your local community involved in a “Local Action Plan”. As local governments are smaller, they often have the ability to be more responsive to their residents, and all local council meetings are open to the public. 

In addition, if you want to chase up any public authority (governments, local councils, schools and courts are all public authorities) on their climate action, you can request information through the What Do They Know website using Freedom of Information (FOI) and Environmental Information Regulations (EIR), where they are legally required to respond.

The elections of today have higher stakes than ever before. We can’t implement all the solutions to the climate crisis without politicians, and our votes are an essential part of how we show politicians that the climate is what we care about.

Actions You Can Take