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We were recently invited by Dorchester's 'Churches together Ecology Group' to find some students keen to challenge our MP about progress made on the Paris Agreement, a year after the summit took place.
The students were accompanied by Mrs Wardlaw who introduced the students generally and they then voiced our concerns as a UNESCO Associated School which is committed to the (17) Global Goals for Sustainable Development aiming to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and justice and fix climate change. Mrs Wardlaw pointed out that we were particularly worried since the latest government reshuffle that climate change has been subsumed into DBEIS Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and that it has been demoted to now being the lowest objective of their mission!
The students then introduced themselves and Mr Letwin tackled their questions. For example Jonathan Hoare, who is aiming to study physics at university asked if he could guarantee that Britain will ratify the Paris Agreement along with the rest of the EU following the vote by EU ministers on Friday 30th September 2016? To which Mr Letwin said, he could not guarantee the outcome of any Parliamentary vote, but with such cross-party agreement on it he is nearly 100% confident of it being passed.
Kristina Pugh, who is presently studying biology and geography, said that we recognised the need to use less energy as well as finding greener ways of producing it, but wondered if the Government had any policies which would steer us in that direction? Mr Letwin was able to give a detailed response that there were a multitude of initiatives underway to drive energy use downwards - making and selling energy efficient devices and persuading people to change their goods and habits, taxing industry and forcing them to buy permits in an emissions trading scheme, raising electricity prices to encourage more careful use; most important improving energy efficiency in cars with encouragement and incentives for electric cars to reduce dependency on petrol/diesel.
Ellie Stacey aiming to study geography at university, noted that the the Government had previously said they should increase spending in renewables, she suggested that this could make us a market leader while having environmental benefitsand asked whether Mr Letwin would admit that the billions we are spending on nuclear power may be better off spent on renewables, especially in view of the fact that nuclear power wouldn’t last that much longer? Mr Letwin stated that we needed both. The electricity grid needs to produce at the rate of usage. Some power generation is needed reliably and continuously whereas supplementary power can be generated on an on and off basis. Tidal/wave promises to be continuous and could be useful when good cheap technologies are developed. Wind/solar are not 100% reliable. So the choice at present is for gas/coal/nuclear to produce adequate supplies with due regard to carbon capture storage targets to reduce global warming.
They then listened to many more questions over the following hour or so from the invited audience of representatives of environmentally concerned organisations and found Oliver Letwin's far-ranging replies reflected a genuine interest in the subject - he seemed to be well briefed! The quality of the debate was extremely polite. Our thanks go to Frances Hogwood and Val Potter for inviting the school representatives to take part - the students seemed to enjoy it and it was a good experience of democracy in action!
Val Potter, Chair of the Dorchester Area Churches’ Ecology Group said “We were delighted that students from the school took part alongside invited representatives of 8 environmental and overseas aid organisations. The knowledgeable questions from the students and their participation in the discussion were impressive and it was good to have the involvement of younger people who will be alive to see if the commitments and targets for 2050 are met!”