Cork Intergenerational Climate Conference, 13 November 2019

This post has been almost finished for a long time, but here it is, better late than never!

On Wednesday the 13 of November the Intergenerational Climate Conference took place in Cork City Hall. With Michael D. Higgins, the Irish President, as the key speaker it was a fantastic event. Half of the audience were second level students, as well as a number of students speaking at the conference.

Tackling Climate Change Through Suing the Government

The day began with a fascinating introduction into how climate change can be and is being tackled through the legal system. Dr Tracey Skillington of University College Cork outlined how governments can be sued and thus forced to tackle climate change. Greta Thunberg, for example, has mounted a legal case against five countries. Dr Skillington discussed both how these cases are brought to court and on what grounds, including international human rights legislation and constitutional law. She also detailed the most unusual aspect of these lawsuits- many of those who will be most affected by the climate crisis haven’t been born yet, future generations are the victims.  For me, this was the most interesting talk of the day, as it is a subject I was completely unfamiliar with, even though it is a crucial aspect in tackling climate change. After Dr Skillington’s speech, a panel discussion was held, where myself and Tomás Sheehan, a UCC student, posed questions, enabling Dr Skillington to delve deeper into the discussion.

Citizens and Organisations Fighting for Climate Justice

Lorna Gold, author of Climate Generation, gave an emotive, inspiring speech about her views and experiences with climate action, particularly as a mother. A panel of Lorna Gold and two second level students discussed issues such as blame and responsibility, with a focus on the Intergenerational aspect. Next, three generations of the Power family discussed their experiences with climate activism, before Seán Healy, CEO of Social Justice Ireland, explained the difference aspects that need to be considered for Ireland to develop sustainably, such as public transport and sufficient rural broadband access for remote working. He spoke about schools, forestry and healthcare, before outlining how carbon taxes have a disproportionate negative impact on people who are struggling financially, yet there is no tax on aviation fuel. A representative from the Environmental Protection Agency, Margaret Desmond, then gave us a summary of the national dialogue on climate action.

Workshop

The day was broken up by an interactive workshop. Rather than being seated in rows and rows of chairs, everyone sat around round tables, with approximately ten people at a table. There was a workshop facilitator at each table, who led a discursive workshop about building a better system to enable justice for everyone. We identified problems with the current system, steps to tackle them, created our ideal island before finally deciding on one step forward we would take after the conference. I really enjoyed the workshop, the other people at my table had insightful ideas and there was a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. I think it helped me visualise exactly what we are hoping to achieve and how we can do so in small steps. The round tables enabled plentiful discussion throughout the day which was fantastic. Furthermore, ECO-UNESCO is bringing the culmination of the ideas from the workshop to the attention of policy makers. Hopefully some of the output of the workshop will have an impact at a national level.

Keynote Address

The keynote speaker was President Higgins, who even travelled by train to the conference. I was delighted to get to shake hands with him. He gave an interesting speech about the link between economics, ecology and ethics. Often these are only considered separately, but they are fundamentally interlinked. He noted that there have been many ‘Greta’s in the past, yet they were completed ignored. He described how there is a ‘moral imperative’ on everyone to change their lifestyle. He denoted how a ‘new ecological-social paradigm’ is necessary in order to tackle climate injustice. 

Conclusion of the Day

Professor Peadar Kirby of the University of Limerick and resident of Cloughjordan Ecovillage finished the day with a talk on the importance of using your imagination to seize the future. He contemplated whether or not we should view the future as a threat or opportunity. Finally, youth activists Alicia O’Sullivan and Saoi O’Connor gave their thoughts on the day.

My Thoughts

Overall, it was an informative, enjoyable and inspiring day. Each of the speakers was unique and I learned something from every talk. It gave me hope to see such a diverse group unite to discuss the climate crisis and come up with positive ways to tackle it. The workshop was especially thought-provoking, the diversity of ideas and perspectives was enthralling. Hopefully the positive energy of the day turns into real actions with tangible results. The intergenerational aspect is critical, as we can only effect significant change by working together. Thanks to everyone who organised it!

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