Right now, stressed-out students are studying for their final exams, planning for their futures. Parents are anxiously watching to see their children make their way into an uncertain world. Young people have always had some degree of control over their futures. While some circumstances are almost impossible to change, there are always choices to be made; decisions made today that will define the course of a life decades on.

Over the past week, 37,432 young Australians aged 12-29 cast their ballot in Youth Decide, the world’s first national youth climate vote. The idea was simple: give the generation most affected by current decisions on climate solutions the chance to choose the kind of world they want to inherit.

Young people were presented with three options of future worlds, based on the government’s own Garnaut Review as well as the UN IPCC reports, and modelling from the Stern Review. The campaign was organised by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and World Vision Australia, with support from Monash University, VISY and a coalition of youth organisations and corporates with the goal of protecting the world’s young people in Australia and developing countries from the effects of runaway climate change.

The results came in last night, and they’re startling — a whopping 97.48% of young people who voted supported targets stronger than the government’s existing commitments. Only 940 people (2.51%) supported the government’s current emission reduction target.

• 91.5% (34267) voted for cuts of 40% plus by 2020 (over 1990 levels)
• 5.9% (2225) voted for cuts of 25-40% by 2020
• 2.5% (940) voted for cuts of 4-24% by 2020

When presented with the facts about the end points of different climate-change mitigation targets, young people overwhelmingly chose a future that requires much stronger targets than current government policy.

Voters were presented with three choices. Each scenario was based on research conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change the international body of the world’s leading climate scientists, as well as modelling commissioned by the Australian and UK Governments. Youth Decide also worked closely with leading Australian Climate Scientists to best summarise each likely scenario for the various emission reduction targets governments are proposing, including Professor David Griggs, CEO of ClimateWorks Australia (CWA), which focuses on action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Previous positions he has held include UK Met Office deputy chief scientist and director of the Hadley Centre for Climate Change, and head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientific assessment unit. Griggs is currently the vice-chair of the World Climate Research Program and is a member of the Victorian Ministerial Reference Council on Climate Change Adaptation, the Australian Council of Environmental Deans and Directors and the Climate Institute Strategic Council.

World 1 (current policy of 4 – 24% targets):

World 2 (25 — 40% targets):

World 3 (40% plus target):

Young Australians have decided not just what world they want to inherit, but also that they want to have a say in decisions that affect their future more than any final exam.

Youth Decide wasn’t just a vote. It was a show of force from an emerging social movement involving tens of thousands of young people. Over the past week, more than 330 local voting events have been held in high schools, universities, TAFEs, libraries, parks and even beaches around Australia, with 15,178 of the votes cast at these local events. A team of 2000  volunteers helped organise these events. Almost 5000 attended a concert in the middle of voting week in Melbourne’s Federation Square with The Cat Empire, Blue King Brown and Kisschasy.

Young people around the world are the human face of climate change — its victims but also its solutions. This generation will take the planet back from the brink; because they’ve decided to do so. We’ve seen in the past that once young people decide it is time, get organised and build a social movement, there’s nothing that can’t be done.

The next generation of voters is here, and they’re moving from simply a demographic, to a political constituency who will act — and vote — on climate change.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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