Home > Feature > Youth shine at Cork Conference on Inter-generational Climate Justice

On the 13th November 2019, the first ever Cork Conference on Inter-generational Justice took place. Misean Cara’s Project Officer for Livelihoods Don Lucey shares some key highlights from the event.

It was with some trepidation that I attended the first Cork Conference on Inter-generational Climate Justice as I had no experience of attending a conference where the average age of the attendees was between 12 and 16 years old.

However, my nerves soon settled as I listened to the impressive line of speakers, such as Dr. Tracey Skillington of UCC who highlighted the “Rights of future generations,” which is embedded in most country’s constitutions. However, our generation have had no say in the decisions of our forefathers, just as the youth of today have few options to influence decisions that will affect their future.

The conference was aimed at providing an opportunity for youth and adults to share ideas on climate justice, based on the growing realisation that climate change, means future generations will inherit a world that is impoverished, perhaps even unlivable. This was emphasised by Irish President Michael D. Higgins who addressed the Cork Conference on Inter-generational Climate Justice. He highlighted that Ireland became the second country in the world to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency, recognising the critical nature and scale of the challenge facing us all.

Dangerous shifts in climate are placing stress on communities around the world and even more so on poor communities especially in the Global South. This in turn contributes to conflict, violence and forced migration. The greatest impact will be on Small Island developing states whose very existence is at stake due to rising sea levels. The defence of previous generations that “we did not know” will not be available to any of us. We must urgently do everything we can as a gesture towards intergenerational solidarity to safeguard a benign future existence on this planet.

Dr Lorna Gold who is the Coordinator of Trócaire’s Laudato Sí Project welcomed the youth of today (who have little or no political capital due to the current voting age being 18 years old), personified by individuals like Climate Activist Greta Thunberg who are spearheading a new climate movement with courage and assertiveness. We can all see how individuals are making personal changes, but it is only through government policy that national and international change can happen.

Dr Sean Healy of Social Justice Ireland emphasized that the government needs to realise that “it’s not just the economy Stupid.” There’s a need for a paradigm shift to include the social and environmental impacts of personal and government decisions. He also noted that workers need a just transition to alternative livelihoods that are climate friendly for example, building solar farms in bog areas which reduces the carbon footprint and reaps enormous benefit to biodiversity which is the variety and variability of life on earth. In the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Economic Systems, the message is clear – in the future “quality of life is expected to decline” due to the “continuous deterioration of nature to support economic growth, with some regions affected more than others.”

Extract from the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and economic systems:

Small-scale farming, fishing and other communities, and Indigenous Peoples around the world that depend directly on local environments for food production, especially in low-income countries, are particularly vulnerable to climate-related food insecurity, which raises important equity and fairness issues. Similarly, in coastal regions, decreases in precipitation and fresh water supplies, along with projected increases in sea level, sea surface temperatures and air temperatures, and ocean acidification are projected to have major negative effects on water security for societies. Without decoupling economic growth from unsustainable extraction and uses, scenarios show continuous decline in nature’s contributions to people (such as food and energy security).

Many of the young attendees at the conference went on to participate in the Youth Assembly on climate held in Dáil Eireann on the 15th November 2019. The Assembly made key recommendations to the government on Climate change. The recommendations included setting aside 10% of agricultural land for forestry; legislating for ecocide; increasing tax on carbon-intensive multi-nationals; and layering sustainability education into the school curriculum. They also recommended investment in industrial hemp production to provide a sustainable option for farmers, banning importation of fracked gas and ensuring that shops install glass doors on open refrigerators. The formal declaration called on the government to listen to the science, to take on board the recommendations and to work on the youth’s behalf to ensure that we have a future.