Voting with a Climate Lens: what it is and how to do it

We are in an unprecedented time with many challenges to securing a safe and equitable future for all. Especially for young people like ourselves, this upcoming election presents a key opportunity to showcase our resilience and determination to advocate for decisive action towards the future we want and deserve. Voting with a climate lens is an important part of this advocacy.

Last year we saw one of the world’s biggest turnouts for the climate strikes right here in Aotearoa. Even though the school strikes this year have been postponed, the message of the youth remains very clear: we want adults to govern Aotearoa more responsibly. We want those in power to take climate change seriously and act rapidly to mitigate its impacts, just like we’ve acted rapidly to contain COVID-19.

We all know that we have nine years to act on climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is the United Nations for assessing the science related to climate change, concludes we need to halve our emissions by 2030 to keep global warming below 1.5 ℃. Practically speaking, this translates to four elections (but just three full terms of parliament) including the one happening on 17 October 2020.

One of the positives to the election being postponed by a month is that anyone who turns 18 in the extra month will be able to vote. Having more youth participate in the election is crucial to climate action, especially since it's our future that’s at stake.

With the election just around the corner, it’s time we got our ducks in a row. If you’re a first time voter, or a floater, read intently.

What does voting with a climate lens really mean?

Voting with a climate lens has been plastered all over social media like it’s a new TikTok trend. But what does it actually mean?

To put it simply, you can only vote with a climate lens if you put climate justice at the centre of the purpose of your vote at the election. Climate justice is acknowledging that those who have done the least to cause climate change are the ones most impacted by it. Therefore, centring your vote on climate justice is acknowledging that the climate crisis disproportionately impacts marginalised communities (FYI: For more on climate justice, check out our website)

So, voting with a climate lens means voting to elect the people who will work towards dismantling the systemic oppression of both our marginalised communities and the planet. This involves more than just straightforward climate policy.

Reading between the lines – seeing climate impacts in non-climate policies

Climate policy action can be explicit, like passing the Zero Carbon Act, which was achieved in 2019 and establishes emission reduction targets for the government. However, it can also be hidden within other policies such as those to do with our tax system.

As climate change and environmental protection are interrelated to other issues that politicians have control over, it’s important that we read between the lines. Climate considerations are critical in all policies as we know that offsetting emissions is not going to solve everything. The following policies may not explicitly spell out climate change like the Zero Carbon Act, but they are vital to Aotearoa reducing its emissions or enabling the community to adapt to climate change:

Economic recovery and the tax system - Having more equitable tax rates would allow governments to provide the investments needed in transport and housing infrastructure to achieve climate justice.
Social welfare - We need policies that ensure people can live with dignity, such as increasing welfare benefits which can provide greater income security. Income security is important to ensure a just transition, where workers can move from pollution intensive industries to ‘green‘ and low emissions industries.
Housing - Community-based housing interventions that focus on retrofitting insulation and more effective heating are shown to improve health outcomes such as asthma, and provide warmer homes that use less energy. Aotearoa also needs to make significant improvements to our building code to ensure new homes are built sustainably and are warm and energy efficient.
What is at stake?

Youth are the future of Aotearoa, yet we remain underrepresented in politics. If the trend of low youth voter turnout continues, we’ll lose our best chance to choose who makes the important decisions on environment, housing, transport and all the other areas of government action that affect every part of our lives every single day. More importantly, we will lose the chance to choose the future we inherit. If we don't get out there and vote this year we’ll see changes in Aotearoa that don’t reflect us and don’t work for us - or worse yet, more of the status quo.

According to Dr. Paul Winton of the 1point5 project, we are already seeing tipping points around the world. Like dominoes, tipping points are thresholds that cause other rapid and irreversible changes around the world. Since everything on Earth is interconnected, the melting of ice in Greenland causes sea level change that impacts our neighbours in the Pacific and all those living in coastal areas.

Source: Lenton et al., 2019


With nine years left to make a long lasting impact to how the future generations will live, the power is ours today. Will we vote for short term economic interests? Or will we vote with a climate lens to ensure that our future generations are not robbed of the ecosystem and quality of life we have today?

What’s next after voting? - Holding those you put in power to account

Voting with a climate lens is just the first step; in order to ensure that those elected will put Aotearoa on track to meet our 2030 environmental targets, we need to continue to make our voices heard and hold power to account. As we have seen over the last few election cycles, the government will constantly need to be reminded that achieving climate justice is the issue of our generation, and should be at the forefront of every policy decision they make for the next three years. After all, we only have nine left to make the crucial changes we need to make before 2030.

So, after congratulating yourself for getting out and using your vote for the climate, take a breath, settle in for the long run, and consider how to use your political power next. Your first port of call should be your local member of parliament or councillor. Whether they were your choice or not, their job is to represent you. Let them know how you feel about government policies and practices through emails, phone calls, and letters - the more direct and personal the better!

Secondly, stay up to date with local and national current events, and have a try at organising your friends and whānau to formally submit on important policies that are being considered - every voice matters. There are heaps of climate justice groups who are advocating for specific communities and the wider Aotearoa climate response. They will let you know when and how you can use your voice for climate justice. Even just talking to friends, whānau and colleagues about climate change really helps raise awareness and progress action.

This election, Generation Zero and many young people around Aotearoa will be putting our votes to use. A climate lens is necessary to achieve our vision of climate justice. Stay tuned for other exciting things Generation Zero will be doing this election. Now it’s up to politicians to listen.

Disclaimer: Generation Zero is a youth-led organisation working towards intergenerational climate justice. We stand with other youth-led organisations and together maintain our non-partisan position. We do not endorse any political parties or candidates in this election. You can read more about this here.