Inside Nottingham Youth Climate Assembly’s Quest to Save the Planet

Words: Emily Giddings
Photos: Paul Smith
Tuesday 30 August 2022
reading time: min, words

Young people can often feel like their voices get lost when it comes to climate change, but movements like Fridays For Future have made their mark on policy shifts in recent years. Likewise, Nottingham Youth Climate Assembly looks to make sure that our local youth are informed and heard about how our city takes on the challenge. Twenty-year-old writer Emily Giddings gives us the lowdown…


Citizens’ assemblies involve regular people coming together to form a jury of sorts, in a bid to find solutions to big issues through learning, deliberation and co-operative decision-making; through this process, they’re guided by a team of impartial experts and facilitators. They’ve been used to gather the perspectives of the wider public on many thorny issues, from climate change to the Irish abortion rights referendum. 

Few assemblies have represented primarily younger people’s voices on climate change - but as we’ve done little to bring about this crisis, and have the most to lose, our voices are arguably the most important. Nottingham Youth Climate Assembly (NYCA), focused on fifteen to eighteen-year-olds, addresses this gap, something that I believe to be important. Naturally therefore, I head down to see what it’s all about. 

NYCA takes place over a weekend at the University of Nottingham’s Monica Partridge Building - a stunning piece of architecture boasting generous natural light, soft pine walls and long glass windows, a modern design intended to promote connectivity and sustainability. As I speed past along a wall of all-female portraits exhibiting some of University of Nottingham’s most notable alumni, I know I’m in the right place.  

I’m just in time to take a seat and listen to proposals for a new green Broadmarsh area; the fruits of a workshop run by architects/designers Will Harvey and Ryan Boultbee. After exploring the recent grassroots demand for green spaces at the heart of Notts, they let the room’s own imaginations run wild. Participant Joe explains the importance of “moving away from materialistic views and shifting our values toward nature” through his designs. 

Not all young people have time to carry out independent research, and filling this educational gap shouldn’t be a child's responsibility

Another speaker with a vision for what’s been dubbed Nottingham’s “Green Quarter” is Chair of Nottingham Good Food Partnership, Penney Poyzer. She laments our broken food system, and offers various ways in which we could fix it: illegalising edible food waste (as France did in 2016) and boosting access to horticultural courses, which are currently unavailable in Notts. 

A young person shares her experience of working in a supermarket, miserably throwing away edible surplus. Another confirms the education gap around things like food cultivation, seed sovereignty and waste. They feel many people, including governments, seem oblivious to the danger; Youth MP Meghan is shocked that some of her own school mates claim climate change “isn’t a big deal”. She feels we’re not taught “in a way that expresses how important it is that we solve it”, a sentiment reflected by facilitator (and young working teacher) Alice Bayes. Not all young people have time to carry out independent research, and filling this educational gap shouldn’t be a child's responsibility. 

Scarlett Westbrook, author of the English Climate Emergency Education Act, would agree. After opening her GCSE geography paper to an unnerving question asking her to list the benefits of climate change, the then-sixteen-year-old joined campaigning organisation Teach the Future. The bill’s sponsored by Nottingham’s own Nadia Whittome, who leads a session on influencing policy.

A young person shares her experience of working in a supermarket, miserably throwing away edible surplus

Nadia explains what a true Green New Deal might look like, and commends our success as young people - our demonstrating, protesting and school strikes “struck the system”. I ask Nadia, only 25 herself and still Baby of the House, how we make politics more accessible for under-eighteens. She says the political world shouldn’t be intimidating or alienating, as politicians are mostly “deeply unimpressive, mediocre people” - winning a collective giggle. She emphasises that we have huge influence, and advises us to collectivise.

Professor Lucelia Rodrigues tells a group looking at transport and planning that if the COP26 pledges are followed, we can potentially mitigate global temperature increase to 1.8 degrees celsius, but notes that ambitions count for little if they don’t become a reality, and policy isn’t moving fast enough. She says Nottingham is practically implementing change towards our Carbon Neutral Nottingham 2028 ambition, though, and seeing the city’s progress is inspiring; our per capita emissions have dropped by 52% since 2005, the highest reduction in the UK. 

But globally we’re nowhere near on track for carbon neutrality (which counts the fuel we burn and the energy we use directly), let alone net zero (which also counts anything we buy, use, or consume) by 2050, which the International Panel on Climate Change says is essential if we’re to stand a chance of halting cataclysmic changes.   

By the end of the weekend, a mass of post-it notes, doodles, posters and forums were condensed into a powerful, four-themed manifesto, which includes calls for more government action, for the council to “listen” to young people by creating a new “Youth Climate Committee”, and involve them in local decision-making that impacts their futures. They want policy to champion accessibility, stronger community bonds, socio-economic justice, inclusion, climate education, and rewilding. 

These tenacious teens have said their piece and made their demands for a rapid and inclusive response to climate change clear. Now it’s just up to the adults to listen.

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