Forty young activists met with policy makers at Stormont today (Friday, 17 January) to set out their demands for safeguarding the environment, as they play their part in shaping Northern Ireland’s first ever environment strategy, which is currently out for public consultation.
Supported by the Belfast Hills Partnership and Ulster Wildlife, the passionate and environmentally conscious young people, aged 11 to 24, have already been taking action to improve hundreds of local green spaces and tackle environmental issues, such as climate change, through Our Bright Future, a UK-wide programme funded by The National Lottery Community Fund.
Speaking at the dedicated event, hosted by Nicola Mallon MLA, Carson Rodgers, from Ulster Wildlife’s Grassroots Challenge Youth Forum, said, “If we do not act now on the climate crisis, catastrophes, like the fires in Australia, will become more commonplace across the world, changing ecosystems beyond repair. We also need to improve our recycling facilities in Northern Ireland, so we can stop wasting money, energy, and resources by making things from scratch. It is possible: Sweden recycle 99 percent of their waste, so why can’t we? Young people have great ideas too; they just need to be listened to more!”
The youth-led movement is calling for three key asks to be included in the forthcoming strategy: more time for young people learning in and about nature, more support for young people to get environmental jobs, and more opportunities for young people to be heard and play an active role in society.
Ciarraí Culbert, from St Dominic’s High School, who has been working with the Belfast Hills Partnership to enhance her local environment, said, “I’ve always had an interest in nature, probably because my dad took me walking with him to the hills and forests surrounding the city, so caring for nature seemed to be a natural thing for me to do. I’m really excited about feeding into the new Environment Strategy for Northern Ireland to make sure all young people have the opportunity to explore wild places, the way I have.”
Welcoming the young people’s input to the consultation, Dave Foster, Director of Policy at the Department of Agriculture, Environmental and Rural Affairs, said, “We have received responses from people of all ages and we know that young people in particular are telling us how strongly they feel about the environment. This dedicated event is to ensure their voices are heard and their ideas contribute to our plans to protect and enhance the environment for both this and future generations.”
Alexey Janes, from Ulster Wildlife’s Grassroots Challenge project, said, “Over 17,500 young people in Northern Ireland have had the opportunity to take action for the environment over the last four years through the Our Bright Future programme, so it’s fantastic that some of them are now getting the chance to influence future environmental policy. We have all seen the passion of those taking part in the Schools Strikes for Climate and this is another way for young people across Northern Ireland to get their voices heard and lead the way to a brighter future.”
The consultation on the draft Environment Strategy ends on the 5th February. More details are available on the DAERA website or at MyNI.org.