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Tuesday 26 September 2023 Dublin: 12°C
Fabian Boros Members of the Children and Young People's Assembly on Biodiversity Loss explored nature on a field trip
# Nature
Children's assembly on biodiversity calls on Ireland to 'treat the Earth like family'
Young people aged seven to 17 have created nearly 60 recommendations on protecting and restoring Ireland’s biodiversity.

AN ASSEMBLY OF children and young people on biodiversity has called for Ireland to “treat the Earth like family” as it publishes a list of far-reaching calls to action to protect the environment.

35 children and teenagers between the ages of seven and 17 met over two weekends in Wicklow and Killarney last October to learn about biodiversity loss and decide on recommendations for policymakers.

The young people convened at the same time as a national citizens’ assembly on biodiversity loss, which issued its final report earlier this month and called for constitutional changes to give people the right to a clean, healthy and safe environment.

The youth assembly’s discussions and activities were facilitated by members of Dublin City University, University College Cork, and Terre des Hommes, a children’s rights organisation.

They compiled nearly 60 calls to action for policymakers and society, some of them going well beyond the government’s existing policies, including recommendations to ban coal, peat and oil, rewild “redundant” roads, and reduce the number of cows in the country by half.

young-assembly-members-using-drawing-to-share-ideas-on-biodiversity-loss Fabian Boros Members of the assembly using drawings to communicate their ideas about biodiversity loss Fabian Boros

The Earth should be treated like a family member or friend and future generations must be able to live in a world where there is no longer a biodiversity crisis and where children aren’t left to carry the burden by past generations’ inaction, the assembly concluded.

The young people want every decision to take biodiversity into account, for children and youths to be included in decisions about biodiversity, and for biodiversity protection to be a shared responsibility and a global, collaborative effort.

Finally, they stated that people must consume resources in a “sustainable, moderate way” that does not diminish the environment, biodiversity, or human rights, wellbeing and livelihoods.

In a statement, Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan said that he was “inspired and moved by the work of the children and young people” during the assembly.

“This report captures beautifully their passion and creativity and provides a clarion call to action for the government on how to restore our natural world.”

The minister said he intends to meet with the members of the assembly later this year after the publication of the government’s new National Biodiversity Action Plan to discuss how their calls to action are reflected in the plan.

“When the Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss was established last year, I felt it was vitally important that our younger citizens under the age of 18 would also be able to have their say,” he said.

“Having seen their brilliant work, I am more convinced than ever of this. I will be exploring with my Department and with the team that designed and ran the Assembly how we can create a mechanism to provide children and young people a voice in decisions on biodiversity policy into the future.”

CYPABL photo 6 - Photo by Fabian Boros Fabian Boros Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan listening to members of the assembly Fabian Boros

Calls to action

In total, the assembly proposed 58 calls to action on issues spanning from restoration and rewilding, habitat and species protection, and overexploitation to education, governance, energy, transport, waste and consumption.

The members decided that biodiversity and climate education should be mandatory at all levels for children and young people but also that local action groups for biodiversity should receive funding to encourage learning in their community, and that farmers should be supported in adopting methods that protect and restore biodiversity. Additionally, media outlets should devote as much attention to biodiversity as economic or business issues – and have “less negative portrayals of animals (eg sharks)”.

The government should invest in conservation efforts and in enforcing existing environmental protection laws, regulate businesses and industries to ensure they “work in green ways”, and give incentives to people and organisations to change their behaviours. It should also set up a permanent Children and Young People’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss and make sure this assembly’s calls to action “are carried out and not just forgotten”, members said. 

In the energy and transport sectors, the assembly made several decisive recommendations, including a call to ban coal, peat and oil and to increase the price of diesel and petrol cars. Public transport should be improved by making it cheaper and expanding tram and train networks outside of Dublin, as well as “replacing parts of the existing road network with trams and trains, and rewilding redundant roads”. 

Turning to waste and consumption, the young people advised implementing a ban on single-use plastic, cutting down on clothing waste and fast fashion, and stopping pollution of rivers, lakes and oceans. They put forward several ideas to reduce meat consumption, including a tax on meat, “stopping the slaughtering of animals unless we really need it”, and “creating more farms for producing vegetables rather than for feeding animals”.

On restoring and rewilding nature, the assembly called for the development of more national parks, nature reserves, protected areas and safe spaces for animals. They want to see the reintroduction of native plants and predators, more green spaces in towns and cities, and “every time someone is born, a tree should be planted so over time we will have forests full and protected for nature”.

To protect species and habitats, the assembly said invasive species should be carefully managed, endangered species and birds should not be hunted, and cats should wear bells to alert birds to their presence. People should be prevented from disturbing bogs and wildlife, more hedgerows and ditches should be created, and a network of wildlife corridors, paths, tunnels and bridges should be established across Ireland.

Finally, on stopping overexploitation of resources, the assembly concluded the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides should be stopped and that number of cows in the country should be halved, with farmers given funding to support them in making changes. Overfishing should be stopped through tighter regulations on fishing practices and overgrazing should be reduced on grassland habitats.

Young voices

7-year-old Fiadh from Co Cork said the most important call to action to her is the recommendation to restore and reintroduce native species.

“It feels better to see more different types of species of plants and animals everywhere and it also makes me feel better that we have more types of animals and plants. It is better for the bees to have more flowers and more trees, for example for squirrels to nest in,” Fiadh said.

“Also, we need more forests because sometimes when I go out into the car and I look out at the mountains I see a lot of deforestation has been happening in the middle of the forest. It’s just very bad because you’re just cutting down someone’s home and I don’t think that should be happening,” she said.

Imagine if you were just sitting in your house, minding your own business and then half of your house just gets chopped off and leaving you there and not even caring about you and your home.

“Trees are homes and there should be more trees and that’s why we should reintroduce more native species back into Ireland.”

CYPABL photo 7 - Photo by Fabian Boros Fabian Boros Assembly members Laura and Eleanor outlining their calls to action Fabian Boros

Olwyn, a 14-year-old from Co Wicklow, also pointed to the role of tree-planting: “I want to plant native trees each year and tie it in with the number of births. That way we will have a forest for 2023, 2024 etc.”

“This will give everyone a forest to explore near them,” Olwyn said.

For nine-year-old Zion from Co Galway, the most important action is to treat the Earth like a family member or friend.

“We wouldn’t treat family or friends as badly as we are treating the Earth,” Zion said.

“We should treat the Earth like a person – nicely, care for the Earth and make sure the Earth is happy.

There should be more nature reserves. Stop hunting for fun. Stop littering on land and in water. Plant a tree for every baby born so they will have more forests.”

And 13-year-old Oisín, also from Co Galway, emphasised the role of education: “I think all of our calls to action are important but I think the most important ones for me were all the ones related to education as I feel this is our best hope in stopping biodiversity loss.”

“My key message to everyone in Ireland is to play your part. I hope that everyone will take inspiration from our calls to action and contribute to combating this crisis,” Oisín said.

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