Youth Parliamentarians debate climate change in the House of Lords Chamber

The 4th Commonwealth Youth Parliament concluded on Friday 9 September with an historic debate in the House of Lords Chamber, only the fifth time that the Chamber has been used for non-parliamentary business.

The new Lord Speaker, Rt Hon. Baroness D’Souza CMG, presided over the debate in what was the first ten days of her term, and for the first time ever, Members of the House of Commons were invited to sit on the red benches of the upper house and speak.

Commonwealth Youth Parliamentarians were joined for the day by an additional group of young representatives of the UK’s Commonwealth Diaspora. The debate on the motion ‘Should [the fictional country of] Commonwealthland reduce carbon emissions by 100% by 2050?’ was lively, engaging, at times highly detailed and always intelligent.

Graeme Osborn of the Isle of Man, elected Prime Minister of Commonwealthland earlier in the week, opened the discussion by setting out the Young Democrat Party Government’s position: climate change is ‘not just a grave threat but a golden opportunity’ for Commonwealthland to develop a green economy through working with the private sector. ‘Is it ambitious? Yes. Is it a challenge? Yes. Is it achievable? Absolutely!’

Matthew Crow (UK), the Leader of the opposing Progressive Youth Alliance, voiced his country’s broad agreement, but urged the Government to go further and bring forward the target to 2040 by radically front-loading reductions. In a piece of political sleight of hand, he claimed credit for the idea of total carbon reduction, saying that the Opposition ‘[had] become used to lending its policies to the Government.’

With the debate then opened to the floor, Commonwealth Youth Parliamentarians and Commonwealth Diaspora Parliamentarians made their voices heard. The discussion ranged from stirring speeches in support of being a global leader by setting ambitious goals, to naysayers arguing that 100% reduction is unfeasible and detrimental to Commonwealthland’s developing economy. Some climate change skeptics also had their say.

One of the most striking and recurring perspectives was that of small island states, put forward by June Lavatai (Samoa), Monica Farrugia (Malta), and Mohamed Nahee Naseem (the Maldives), for whom a 2 degree Celsius rise in global temperature could lead to total eradication. However, the vast majority agreed with their view of the issue as an urgent one: ‘Drastic climate change is happening now, the time to stop it was yesterday, and if we don’t act, there will be no tomorrow (Jayson Paul, Trinidad and Tobago).

After 90 minutes of intense discussion, Commonwealthland’s Parliament voted, and with 68 content and 41 not content with the motion, the Government comfortably carried the day. This was due in no small part to the Opposition Front Bench voting with the Government, showing the admirable maturity with which its members put the greater good ahead of political one-upmanship.

Finally, the Lord Speaker invited the observing MPs and peers to introduce themselves and make their observations on the debate. Pauline Latham MP, Steve Baker MP, Conor Burns MP, Thomas Docherty MP, Tom Greatrex MP, Stephen Pound MP and Baroness Scotland all commended the performances of all participants, although Mr Docherty bucked the trend of encouraging them to pursue their political ambitions by imploring the UK participants to give up politics immediately, so as never to present him with a challenge.

Mr Pound, the last of the guests to speak, said that CYPs and CDPs were ‘sitting [in the Chamber] as of right,’ and expressed his certainty that by 2050 ‘when I am a shade, a distant memory, a mere spectre haunting this building, I will listen to you in this House and those of your own countries as parliamentarians.’