Petition for RTE climate debate gathering steam

Published by Kayle Crosson on

January 20th, 2020

A petition calling for a standalone climate debate on RTE in the run up to general election has gathered over 1,600 signatures in just over a week.

Signatories are calling for a televised debate focused solely on the climate crisis in front of an audience largely made up of under-35’s and teenagers to “reflect the disproportionate significance of the climate crisis for future generations”. 

The Uplift campaign is based on two merged petitions, one created by Nikki Ffrench Davis and the second by Professor Barry McMullin of Dublin City University that is addressed to the Director General of RTE Dee Forbes.

Why is it important to have a climate debate? 

Over the past year, the climate crisis has been at the forefront of public discourse, both around the world and at home.  According to an Irish Times poll released last October, climate change is now “the most serious issue” for the majority of voters.  And for good reason too.

As the petition itself states, the climate crisis is “entirely different from all other issues” in the general election as it “transcends and dwarfs” all others.

“There can be no enduring solution to housing, healthcare, education, economic development, peace or justice unless there is a successful response to the climate crisis,” the petition states. 

Speaking to The Green News, Prof McMullin said that the debate would be an “opportunity” to challenge all parties to state clearly what emissions reductions they will aim to achieve if elected to the next Government. 

“The people who pay the price for inaction today are not the people currently running for election by and large. We have to at least have a conversation about intergenerational justice,” he added. 

If the debates go ahead, RTE would be the logical host choice as the national broadcaster held its own climate week in November. While it produced a series of documentaries on the climate crisis itself during the week, the public, activists and climate experts are all calling for lasting coverage.

Has it been done before? 

To date, Ireland has not held a single-issue climate debate. However, the concept of a climate debate is not unprecedented.  During the early stages of the US Democratic Party primary, Washington state governor Jay Inslee pushed for a climate debate.

The Democratic National Committee, however, refused his request.  Instead, candidates engaged in a “Climate Town Hall” where they laid out their plans for addressing the climate crisis. 

The UK successfully held a televised climate debate on Channel Four in November before their general election the following month. Leaders of the Greens, Labour, Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party, and the Liberal Democrats all participated.  

Current UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage refused to take part and were subsequently replaced with melting ice sculptures on stage. 

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Kayle Crosson

Kayle is a multimedia journalist focused on climate and environmental issues and contributes to The Irish Times and The Green News.