A decade to offer a better vision of the future to today’s young people - Dr Deborah Long

After years of build-up, Scotland’s moment in the COP26 spotlight will be over before we know it. If it has a legacy for us, the host nation, let’s make it the start of a decade in which we work together to tackle the greatest existential challenges of our time.

Dr Deborah Long, Chief Officer, Scottish Environment LINK
Dr Deborah Long, Chief Officer, Scottish Environment LINK

The climate and nature emergencies are the challenges that overshadow all others. The two are closely intertwined, and we know that the decade ahead is a critical window of opportunity to find solutions to both, before it is too late.

Young people are at the forefront of demands for change. They can very clearly see the mess they are inheriting and are angry about the delays and inaction of governments across the world. They can see their future and their children’s future falling far short of that inherited by previous generations.

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But we can offer a better vision of the future to today’s young people, starting now. As well as being the year of this most crucial climate summit, 2021 marks the start of the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration. Without restoring the ecosystems on which life depends, we will fail to pass on a planet worth living on. This means the next decade will be a decade of hard work. It will need to be based on much longer term thinking and planning – ten years is not enough to make the scale of change we need. But it is enough to set us on the right track to meet our 2045 climate net zero targets and nature restoration goals.

It will need to be a decade of new funding: the scale of action required is so vast that current sources of funding are simply inadequate.

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It will need to be a decade of enlightenment as we move towards measuring what matters and away from GDP as a measure of success. We need to encourage and inspire and learn from others: everyone can contribute and everyone has a role in tackling the scale of what we need to do.

It will need to be a decade of empowerment and responsibility. We have to be able to listen to everyone, and everyone has to be empowered to play their part. Citizens’ Assemblies in Scotland have come up with effective and innovative solutions, and we need to build on their suggestions and run more of them. It will be a decade of innovation and new thinking, of new priorities and creative solutions. And it will be a decade of excitement and purpose as we learn and make progress.

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It will need to be a decade underpinned by altruism and empathy in which we all work together. That’s a huge ask in today’s increasingly fragmented and disrupted and angry world, but we all share a single planet. Cooperation and mutual support are the best survival tools we have.

If the next decade is all of those things, it will also be a decade of burgeoning nature, healthy and accessible food, clean air and clean water. We’ll see forests spread across the landscape, and oceans teem with life. And we’ll see a generation with new hope for the future.

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Deborah Long is chief officer at Scottish Environment LINK

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