Make it 16: How lowering the voting age might fix the climate crisis
Is the governments sluggish climate change response due to the fact that most current voters, and the politicians empowered to pass the legislation, will likely be dead before the full consequences of their inaction is felt? Climate destruction is increasingly impacting New Zealand, as elsewhere, in the form of floods, droughts, fires, ocean warming, species elimination and so on. Despite an apparent need for urgency, legislation to cut emissions is too often deferred from progressing through parliament or stymied by extended time frames . This phenomenon is evident in New Zealand as in other democratic nations even as we are lashed by extreme weather . If younger people could vote would we get more action on climate mitigation? Thats the argument of Make It 16 campaigners seeking to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 years of age, on the basis that Generations Z and Alpha need a greater say in protecting their own future. The climate crisis is a universal issue that will affect anyone and everyone. But young people and their futures are going to be most impacted by climate inaction and climate change, says Caitlin Taylor-Maddock of Make It 16. It makes sense that more young people voting will likely result in better climate action as it will create better representation in Parliament of those youth voices. And then ultimately politicians will feel that pressure to create more action in the climate crisis. Its a view echoed by the United Nations. A UN report released in April 2023 called for countries to expand youth participation in public policymaking and decision-making, with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saying youth are key to identifying new solutions for the breakthroughs the world urgently needs. Another argument for a younger voting age is the political engagement evidenced in the likes of the School Strike for Climate movement , compared with the sag of voter disenchantment seen in recent local elections. Once youve voted for the first time youre more likely to vote again, says Michael Ferguson, of Make It 16. Turnout is really low in a lot of elections, especially local elections, which is the main focus of our campaign at the moment. ... Youve got around 30% turnout in most local elections and every local council meeting dominated by a particular demographic which is older and disproportionately Pakeha. In June 2023, the Interim Report of the Independent Electoral Review recommended lowering the voting age to 16 , suggesting this could have wider benefits on increasing participation. Austria, Scotland and Wales are countries where the voting age for local body elections is 16, and voting when newly eligible has been shown by studies overseas to be an important factor in becoming a life-long voter. The report noted some evidence from Austria and Scotlands independence referendum that shows higher turnout rates among 16- and 17-year-olds compared to people in their late teens and early twenties. While this limited evidence is from countries with different populations and histories to ours, it is still encouraging. In June 2023 the final report from the Review into the Future for Local Government was published, recommending the voting age for local body elections also be lowered to 16. Taylor-Maddock says the next step for Make It 16 is preparing for the Bill to lower the voting age for local elections, due to come out early next month. We're holding two launch parties for our Tamaki Makaurau and Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington regional hubs. We're inviting any and all supporters to come along and have some kai. Well introduce our plans to get volunteers more actively involved in grassroots campaigning in their local areas. Taylor-Maddock says they do things like heading to markets and community events, handing out brochures, putting up posters and holding events and workshops. They reach out to youth by speaking at schools. Were basically seeking out as many opportunities as possible to have open korero with as many people as possible in the lead up to the launch of the Bill and then of course during the lead up to the [general] election as well. Sarah Heeringa was a guest at Festival for the Future conference in Wellington, June 8-9.