In what is believed to be a unique initiative, the Mayo diaspora — estimated to total some 3.5 million people globally — has been asked to work collectively to help address climate and the biodiversity crises.
Speaking at an inaugural gathering of “Mayo change-makers” in Ballina, Kenyan ambassador to Ireland Michael Mubea welcomed the initiative. The world was more local than people thought, he said, while deploying the Irish Meitheal tradition could help meet the challenges of global warming.
Already the potential from this type of collaboration was demonstrated by the successful establishment of a population of “the Mayo cow” on Kenyan farms, courtesy of Mayo farmers, he confirmed.
Torn between giving food to their families and their animals, Kenyan farmers face an unenviable dilemma in handling the impacts of climate change that are the result of actions in the global North, he told the conference. In contrast, Ireland might not be in the direct firing line of climate disruption, but it would be affected.
“Climate change is an emergency which calls for urgent collective global action. The least contributors will unfortunately be most affected,” he said.
“Nature is very unforgiving of our mistakes, and I urge you all to be that agent of change to protect our environment,” Mr Mubea told delegates, most of whom had Mayo roots ‑ including leading scientists, energy experts, biodiversity researchers and climate activists who tuned in online from abroad.
Participants explored themes including leadership in local and global communities, innovation and research, and featured “change-makers” already tackling climate and biodiversity issues — including community groups in the county.
Former head of the Defence Forces, retired vice-admiral Mark Mellett, who is from Castlebar, emphasised “the issue at hand is a people issue. It is essential for us to bring together governments, civil society and enterprise to help solve the greatest challenge of our society.”
Climate activist Theo Cullen-Mouze, who is from Clare Island and a founder of “School Strikes 4 Climate Ireland”, underlined Irish people could make a meaningful response to the climate crisis at an individual level but also by influencing leaders locally, nationally and on the international stage.
The network is being facilitated by a partnership between the Mary Robinson Centre (MRC) in Ballina and Mayo County Council’s climate action office, with support from Atlantic Seaboard North CARO.
Mayo TD Dara Calleary said the initiative was rooted in communities. “Each and every one of us … has to lead in our communities, in our workplace and in every sphere of our lives. We can no longer delay change,” he said.
Mayo prided itself in its environmentalism going back more than 5,000 years, he said, but it had to act now to ensure its environment and land was passed on in a healthy condition to those living 5,000 years hence. If it did not act with greater urgency, there would be no Mayo, he predicted.
The objective was to create a global network of Mayo people working, studying and researching in this space for collaborative and knowledge-sharing opportunities across the world, while having a conversation on “how we can work together in supporting the global goal of carbon neutrality”, said MRC project manager Susan Heffernan.
Mayo’s national and overseas diaspora associations were some of the strongest and most active; “well-connected to home and eager to support, connect and celebrate the green and red where they can.”
“We might have the country’s first climate diaspora association emerging here,” she said.
Mr Mubea is also undertaking a two-day visit to Mayo, learning about Irish farming practices, land use and climate initiatives that could be applied in Africa, and sharing Kenya’s perspective on climate change.