Speaking today at the Scottish Renewables Annual Conference, Emily Shaw MSYP for Shetland, said:
(Check against Delivery)
I am a Trustee of the Scottish Youth Parliament as well as a Member of the organisation for Shetland. The issues surrounding renewable energy are something which I have been exposed to while growing up in Shetland. Something that I am extremely passionate about is the engagement of Scotland’s young people in the renewables industry.
In a world facing the threat of climate change, it’s important for every nation to look towards renewable energy. The benefits of cleaner air and water, and of reduced carbon emissions and fossil fuel use, cannot be disputed.
Young people in Scotland are very aware of this. All the opinion polling, as well as the work of the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP), shows clear support for policies designed to protect the environment. In the most recent YouGov poll, 69% of young people who responded said that they agreed with the continued development of wind power as part of our energy mix. This was higher than that of the general population. 71% of the younger respondents said that their decision to visit an area would not be affected by the presence of a wind farm. Young people understand the need for compromise and the value of wind power. In contrast, the older generation of respondents were much less favourable to all renewable. When asked to rate developments they would prefer to see in their local council area, the older respondents favoured fossil fuel developments. 37% of this older age bracket said that the presence of a wind farm would affect their decision to visit an area.
Last October we debated whether Scotland should fully back the use of renewable energy. The result was overwhelming, with 81 percent of our members voting in favour.
This is nothing new, a decade ago the SYP manifesto said: “Scotland should aim to produce 50% of its electricity through renewable sources by 2020. Scotland should become a country of excellence in renewable energy, creating jobs and protecting our environment.”
The obvious implication here is young people are much more concerned about the long-term than many older voters. They recognise the challenges. Yet at the same time, they are free from some of the issues which encourage scepticism.
Not having to consider what the price of fuel will be next month, or what the impact of planning permission will be on the street, means young people can look at issues on a more holistic level.
This is why those who work in the Renewables industry should be doing everything possible to engage with young people. Young people are already convinced of the environmental case.
We understand that there might be a trade-off between the perfect view and adding a few turbines that will bring local energy, local investment, and local jobs. Because young people are often excluded from household decisions they are more likely to be prepared to engage when their opinion is asked.
Yet at the same time young people are the group most likely to be excluded from the process.
- Planning letters sent to the head of the household are unlikely to filter down through the house.
- Long and obtuse planning application proposals fail to speak to the issues young people care about.
- By comparison, presentations are rarely made in schools, colleges or to youth groups.
In essence the current approach from the Renewables industry focuses on those most likely to be resistant, whilst excluding potential allies.
However, it’s not just enough to make a generic case for renewable energy, and assume young people will be happy enough. The natural sympathy for this industry doesn’t mean young people don’t care about the local implications as well. This is why it’s not just about the medium, but about the message.
The Viking Energy project in Shetland inspired hundreds of young people across the isles to debate and discuss the proposals. Whether in favour or against the project, what was clear was that young people care and want to be involved in debate and discuss around the production of energy in Scotland today. They understand that the oil that the economy of their islands is so dependent on will run out and that doing nothing is not an option.
While travelling around Shetland with our MSP Tavish Scott conducting School surgeries, many young people asked for our opinions on the Viking proposals and shared their opinions with us. Young people want to be engaged in debate and involved in the industry.
Renewable energy projects can make a difference locally, affecting and improving the lives of young people. The details of course vary from place to place and proposal to project. In some cases it will mean local jobs, especially for younger workers prepared to be trained. On other occasions there may not be work, but there may be compensation for the community which could be used to help local young people.
The situations vary, but the necessity to engage with young people does not.
There can be no doubt renewable energy is crucial to Scotland’s energy and economic development. In many ways Scotland’s future is tied up with making green energy a success. That success is just as important for young people.
Firstly because the jobs and opportunities developed by our green investment are incredibly important to engage with the challenges of youth unemployment. Whether it’s modern apprenticeships, or high level engineering, the renewable industry is an area of enormous potential growth – and is therefore very important for young Scots.
Secondly, the importance of being able to produce energy domestically cannot be understated. As North Sea Oil reserves eventually dwindle it’s essential we look to the future.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s about the future of the very land. Scotland is a beautiful country. Preserving that environment is one of the most important duties we all face.
Young people in Scotland understand this. We want to be able to enjoy our amazing nation for many years to come. That is much more likely if the renewable industry recognises our value, our potential, and works together with us.
What I’m really asking is for Scotland’s renewable industry to recognise the importance of the young people who truly are Scotland’s future, and to work with them to help deliver the Scotland they deserve.
That is the way forward to a greener, cleaner, and better future for Scotland.