Speech to the Youth Climate Justice Fund
Video Message, 30th November, 2021
May I send my best wishes to all the young people, youth workers and volunteers who are taking part in today’s climate justice event celebrating, as it does, the achievements of those young people who have demonstrated such fantastic innovation in their use of a Youth Climate Justice Fund, which was established by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.
The Youth Climate Justice Fund was established in 2020. It followed on from the increased United Nations focus on youth engagement as part of the global response to climate change. The Fund supports youth-led action on climate justice at community, regional and national level. The Fund aims to foster, enable and empower young voices in an ongoing conversation on climate justice. This is an important ambition of our national Climate Action Plan which seeks to enhance citizen and community engagement to support climate action activities across the country.
Since the launch of the Youth Climate Justice Fund in March 2020, young people, youth workers and volunteers have innovated and collaborated to advance a range of initiatives within a number of areas – from network-building and communications, to research, awareness-raising, engagement with policymakers, and the introduction of practical climate justice changes within their communities. This year’s funding, which totals almost €500,000, is intended to support the further development of initiatives in the area of youth engagement in climate justice.
The issue of climate change, and responding to it, is a core theme of my Presidency. I described it at national and international fora as the most pressing existential crisis that our vulnerable planet and its global citizens face. Throughout the world, young people and the youth sector have been at the vanguard of efforts to tackle climate change. Young people have demonstrated, time and again, how well-informed and acutely aware they are of the threat that climate change poses, as well as its uneven and unequal impacts.
In 2019, 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. Now we, each of us, are urged to play our part in taking climate action – decarbonising our society and economy so that we may inhabit a sustainable world, one that sustains the planet and the human spirit.
Climate change is at once a global problem, a national problem and a local problem, and our response to its mitigation must be multifaceted, emerging from all of these levels, across all sectors of society, including all age groups. The window of opportunity to act on climate change is closing worryingly fast, as the latest United Nations IPCC Report informs us starkly: climate change is “widespread, rapid, and intensifying” and “major climate changes are now inevitable and irreversible”.
We as humans must take responsibility now for our role in this crisis, a crisis in which the origins can be traced back to the onset of the Anthropocene era at the start of the industrial revolution in the 1780s when an insatiable, unrestricted consumption of the Earth’s finite natural resources intensified. Human actions created the climate crisis, and from amongst the most powerful. Human actions can make the changes necessary, with the most powerful acknowledging their role.
Our basic human morality suggests that it is indefensible that another 100 million people be doomed to extreme poverty by 2030 should we fail to honour the commitment to tackle climate change as expressed through the United Nations 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the Paris Agreement, and the consensus, limited as it is, agreed at COP26 in Glasgow earlier this month. The need for collective action addressing the climate crisis becomes more evident every month. The defence of previous generations that ‘we did not know’ is no longer available to any of us.
That is why the work you are doing – raising climate justice awareness amongst young people, educating youth groups and clubs on climate justice, empowering young people to influence, effect and sustain local, regional or national climate change policy, network building and creating dialogue with people outside of the youth sector, as well as delivering practical climate justice initiatives by young people in their communities, including supports to facilitate the participation of young people with fewer opportunities – this work is so vital and inspiring, a model of active citizenship and participative democracy. May I say that your work is even more impressive in the context of the ongoing public health emergency.
Today is a day to acknowledge and indeed celebrate the journey you have travelled so far, and to recognise the journey still to be travelled. As President of Ireland, I want you to know that you have my full support on this our greatest challenge, and I urge you to continue your efforts and make your voice heard so that we may together create a sustainable, inclusive future on our vulnerable planet in peril.