MEG member Liam Murtagh went along recently to a conference on Climate Justice hosted by Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) and organised by the Drogheda based development education group ‘Development Perspectives’. While initially setting out the extent of the global challenges of climate change and climate justice and the lack of action to address them, the conference presenters went on to focus on some practical responses in the education field in Ireland.
Main speakers at the Climate Justice conference were l to r:John Sweeney, Climatologist, NUI Maynooth, Ann Cleary, DkIT Green-CampusCommittee and Elaine Nevin, Eco UNESCO.
As students and delegates arrived at DkIT, the enormous blades of the campus’s landmark wind turbine were turning at a fast speed and producing energy needed on that day for lecture halls,classrooms and offices and thereby resulting in substantially lower carbon emissions from the Institute than for other similar sized facilities. The strong commitment of DkIT to the principles of sustainability was the opening message from Bob McKiernan, Head of Informatics and Creative Arts in DkIT when he opened the conference. John Sweeney of NUI Maynooth then set out the current scientific data on climate change. He emphatically pointed out that the science ‘’is settled’’ as he indicated that 99 per cent of climatologists believe that the global warming crisis is being caused by us – humans. He pointed out that the developing world is currently suffering and will suffer the worst effects of climate change. For a low-lying country like Bangladesh the effects are likely to be catastrophic. Rising sea levels and storms will mean the likelihood of the loss of many lives and also the emergence of vast numbers of climate change refugees. Ireland’s climate will also be affected and we are likely to have many unusual weather events because of the changes to the ‘jet stream’ arising from climate change. John Sweeney then highlighted Ireland’s poor record on greenhouse gas emissions – he sees the focus on dairy and beef in the 2020 Food Harvest plan as being difficult to reconcile with our targets to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. In conclusion he said that what was needed in Ireland was (1) a considerable improvement in energy efficiency (2) a speedy transition to greater use of renewable energy and (3) people to change to a lifestyle that involves using less carbon.
Elaine Nevin, Co-ordinator Eco-Unesco outlined the role of her organisation in promoting the personal development of young people and raising environmental awareness through practical environmental and educational projects in Ireland. Large numbers of young people have undertaken various Eco-Unesco training initiatives and there is increasing interest in the Young Environmentalist Awards. The Awards were showcased in an exhibition in the Mansion House on May 22nd last.Commenting on the National Strategy onEducation for Sustainable Development (ESD) for Ireland, Elaine Nevinexpressed disappointment that the Dept of Education has not implemented the strategy. If implemented she said that it would embed sustainability through out the school curriculum in Ireland.
Ann Cleary of DkIT Green-Campus Committee described the process by which DkIT achieved its award of ‘Green-Campus’. The award aims to make environmental awareness and action an intrinsic part of the life and ethos of a third level institution. In The case of DkIT this ranges from its flagship wind turbine to efforts to address litter. The Community Sports Leadership students’ Pedal Power Pledge complements Green-Campus. ‘Leave the car and pedal far!’ was their slogan to encourage students to cycle five plus kilometres a day to and from college.
The conference also had workshops on energy, forestry and transport. There was also a special presentation by Irish adventurer Eimear Carlin. Eimear has recently returned from an expedition to Antarctica where she engaged with representatives from global corporations on polar protection and climate solutions. The conference concluded with a call by Bob McCormack of Development Perspectives to all who attended to do more at both a personal level by, e.g. cycling and walking more and driving less, and at a community level, by getting involved inorganisations that are working to address climate change and climate justice issues. In particular he said that there is a need to engage more with politicians and business people. The development education organisation Development Perspectives has a number of initiatives such as its Insight Programme that involves people undertaking a placement in a developing country. For more information see www.developmentperspectives.ie.