Converting Student Activism into Student Action


Young people want to push forward the fight against climate change, but are struggling to achieve change. The government should help them achieve change and learn about the practical difficulties of doing so by creating a competition for universities to achieve net-zero status, with students at the fastest universities rewarded with debt-forgiveness.


Climate change has risen to become one of the big political issues of the day, especially for young people whose futures will most be affected by the consequences of a warming planet.

Pupils in schools and students in universities have walked out of their studies to protest against climate change and demand action, and there is growing frustration among young people in Britain. Young people should be given more encouragement and support to bring about the changes they wish to see with regard to the movement of the UK economy to net zero status and to better understand the practical challenges of doing so.

A simple way to help achieve this is to run a competition for students to make their universities net zero as soon as possible.

Universities conduct and publish the research showcasing the threat of climate change and are home for more than 2 million students a year in the UK, yet they are not yet net zero themselves. They are therefore an obvious location to start the shift to net zero.

To encourage such a change and show that the government is serious about tackling climate change, the government should run a nationwide competition to challenge students to make their universities net zero as quickly and effectively as possible (ideal in Scope 1,2 and 3 emissions, but at the very least in both Scope 1 and 2 emissions).

To incentivise such a transition and to show how the intelligent use of financial markets and demand pressures can help achieve social and environmental change, the government should offer to cancel all student debt of British undergraduate students enrolled at the time the first university achieves net zero status.

The second and third universities to achieve the goal should have half of the student debt of British undergraduate students enrolled at the time cancelled, and students at any university that achieved net zero within 12 months would have £10,000 of debt forgiven to incentivise rapid change at all universities.

By way of example, if the first university to achieve net zero status had 5,000 UK undergraduate students enrolled at the time, the full 3 years of student debt of those students would be written off by the government.

Such a scheme would create a bold and powerful project to effect change in the country and show the challenges and opportunities of transitioning to a low carbon economy.

It would also show that fighting climate change can be profitable; students could get upwards of £50,000 of debt written off. Since most student debt is written off eventually anyway, the cost to government would not be that large, yet the impact on the drive for net-zero could be significant.

Bold action is required to fight the global threat of climate change, and young people who are passionate about the issue need to be given more support to empower them to drive the change to a low carbon economy as well as an insight into the practical challenges of achieving such change.

This proposal would offer clear financial incentives for students to drive change and help showcase the way forward for the country at large. Perhaps most interestingly of all, even students who were climate change sceptics would be incentivised to push their university to net zero to benefit from debt forgiveness.

The fight against climate change has focused too much on moral calls and not enough on engaging people’s self interest. This proposal would help to show the value of engaging that self-interest to drive change.

As the saying goes, ‘there is only one green issue everyone agrees on; the more Greenbacks in their pockets, the better’.




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