Ballina’s Mary Robinson Climate Conference calls for community empowerment and intergenerational climate justice
“We’re burning down our children’s home”, according to Chair of the Elders and former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, but young people should not despair, but instead should be “prisoners of hope”.
The need for rapid action to address the climate crisis and to empower communities to play their part were the key messages from speakers and delegates at the inaugural Mary Robinson Climate Conference, themed “Communities Creating Change”, which took place in Ballina, Co. Mayo this week.
A partnership between The Mary Robinson Centre, Ballina 2023, Mayo County Council and University of Galway saw over 250 delegates visit the North Mayo capital, to hear speakers including former President Mary Robinson, Minister Eamon Ryan TD, Kevin Anderson; Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester, 18 year-old climate justice activist Saoirse Exton of Fridays for Future, Eimear Cotter, Director with the Environmental Protection Agency and Adele Mealey of the Creative Ireland Programme. Informed by their own work, conference speakers shared their personal perspectives, resulting in a consistent, unanimous call for urgent action on climate change.
Mary Robinson welcomed contributions from young climate activists participating in the conference which included Fridays for Future, SAUTI- Galway and the Children and Young People’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss and spoke of the importance of encouraging and facilitating intergenerational dialogue, to create climate justice for younger generations and empower them to be better community leaders and civic society members.
Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan TD in his address, which was disrupted by climate activists, acknowledged that the time has passed for dictating to people how to address climate change, insisting instead that listening, motivating and empowering communities to create solutions will deliver results. Communications around climate action must be clear and compelling, said the Minister, so that everyone can understand how we can create the future we want, instead of unwittingly creating a future we do not want.
Conference partner Mayo County Council is the lead authority and host for the Climate Action Regional Office (CARO) for the Atlantic Seaboard North and was the first Local Authority in the country to employ a Climate Action Officer. At the conference, Laura Dixon launched the Mayo Climate Action Survey, to ensure that communities can contribute to the Mayo Climate Action Plan due to be delivered to government next year. Conference sponsors IPB, the lead insurer to the Irish public sector, together with Mayo County Council and the Mary Robinson Centre facilitated a Local Authority Climate Action Staff networking event, where officers shared their experiences and workshopped new strategies to empower communities to address climate change.
Other events during the conference included a bike buffet, a climate-focused art exhibition in Ballina Civic Offices and a series of field trips showcasing local climate action projects including the Enniscrone Dunes project and the award-winning Ripple Ballina project, which explored how a community in Ballina transformed green space with the use of rainwater. During the conference, a gathering of young people also met with Mary Robinson, the US Ambassador Claire Cronin and French Ambassador Vincent Guérend, facilitated by University of Galway, President Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh to discuss youth leadership for sustainability from a global and local perspective.
Ballina is fast becoming a national leader on community climate action with community-led initiatives addressing climate action and sustainability, including the Ballina Green Town initiative, which has set an ambition for Ballina to become Ireland’s Greenest Town. Ripple Ballina recently became the first Irish winner of a New European Bauhaus Award in the Reconnecting with Nature category, and Ballina Chamber of Commerce has recently been recognised with the Sustainability & the Sustainable Development Goals Award in the National Chambers Ireland Awards. In 2021, Ballina Community Cleanup Group with their ‘Beelieve in Ballina’ biodiversity initiative won an IPB National Pride of Place Award.
The Mary Robinson Climate Conference was formed part of the Ballina 2023 programme, which is marking the tercentenary of the town, and was supported by IPB Insurance and Eirgrid. Ballina 2023’s RISE Legacy Programme aims to upskill, empower and build capacity within the community, creating a strong legacy for the town.