‘We shouldn’t be hurting our planet’: Youth Assembly calls for greater input into biodiversity

Voice of generation most impacted by decline of nature ‘must be heard’, gathering told

Planet Earth should be treated like a member of the family or a friend — and shown kindness and respect, according to a unique gathering of young Irish people who have considered how best to respond to Ireland’s biodiversity crisis.

Members of the Children and Young People’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss presented their calls to action to Minister for Heritage Malcolm Noonan in Killarney National Park on Sunday, following two weekends of deliberation.

The assembly was set up to ensure Ireland’s youngest citizens have their say in how the country responds to the decline of nature, given it poses a significant threat to children’s right to a healthy environment.

More than 500 children and young people aged seven to 17 took part, of which 35 were selected, representing a cross-section of society. Assembly members gathered to explore, discuss and make recommendations on how to protect and restore biodiversity in Ireland.


Calls to action

It came up with six key messages under which their list of calls to action and recommendations fall:

— We must treat the Earth like we do our family and friends, and give [it] the right to be treated with kindness and respect;

— Future generations must live in a world where there isn’t a crisis and where children don’t have to take action because of the incapability of past generations;

— Every decision must take biodiversity into account;

— Children and young people must be included in decisions being made about biodiversity;

— Biodiversity protection must be a shared responsibility and a global, collaborative effort;

— We must consume resources in a sustainable, moderate way that neither diminishes the environment/biodiversity, or our rights, wellbeing and livelihoods.

Mr Noonan paid tribute to the participants. “The work you have done is unique and so important to us in helping to shape our future ... your recommendations will help to inform strong policies for nature protection and restoration so that you can see nature thrive again. I know that there is a big job of work to do, and I feel the responsibility of it,” he added.

He said he was impressed by their deep understanding of biodiversity and how it connects with the impact of daily activities. “Like you, I believe that by working together and trying to make better decisions for nature, we can have the collective response needed to turn the tide on biodiversity loss,” he said.

Assembly members came up with 58 calls to action across seven themes including education and awareness-raising; governance; restoring and rewilding; habitat and species protection; energy and transport; overexploitation; and waste and consumption.

It sought to inform the work of the Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss, which is tasked by the Oireachtas with examining how the State can improve its response to biodiversity loss.

Earth as a person

Secretary general of the Citizens’ Assembly Art O’Leary met participants at the weekend and invited them to present their recommendations at its upcoming meeting in early November. The outcome of both assemblies will inform Ireland’s next national biodiversity action plan.

Assembly member from Co Cork Esther (10) said: “I like to think of the Earth like a person and they are in trouble and so we should protect them. We shouldn’t be hurting our planet, we should be caring for it and should treat it like we do our family and friends.”

The assembly’s design and operation was led by an intergenerational team consisting of a young advisory team and an independent research consortium.

The consortium included experts in children’s participation, deliberative democracy and biodiversity from Dublin City University, University College Cork, and Terre des Hommes — an international organisation focusing on children’s environmental rights.

The process mirrored a deliberative citizen assembly, with a learning phase, discussion phase and decision phase with facilitators ensuring all voices and views were captured. Assembly meetings included nature walks and outdoor activities in Wicklow and Killarney National Parks.

Consortium lead Dr Diarmuid Torney of DCU said Ireland had developed a strong reputation over the past decade in the inclusion of voices of the adult population in policymaking through citizens’ assemblies.

“But to date our citizens’ assemblies have not included the voices of children and young people. It has been inspiring to work with the children and young people participating in this unique process to enable them to learn more about biodiversity loss and formulate their calls to action,” he said.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times