• 11 July 2023

The voice of youth at ECCA2023

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ECCA2023 organisers are rightfully proud of the range of this year’s programme and the many platforms provided for diverse voices. From school children who had been involved in adaptation projects and youths upwards, engagement, dialogue and communications for every generation were shared.   

In the opening plenary Master of Ceremonies Karen Coleman, of EU News Radio, interviewed two leading young climate activists, Katarzyna Smętek, Polish Climate Advocate and President of the World Urban Forum Youth Council, and Oileán Carter Stritch, Ireland’s Climate Youth Leader and co-founder of Change Clothes Crumlin, a sustainable clothing initiative in County Antrim, Ireland, aimed at bridging the gap between fast fashion and charity shopping. 

Katarzyna gave a warning not to judge individuals by their level of climate action nor to undermine their efforts but to empower everyone to take some kind of action, however great or small because even small actions can be magnificent. Oileán added: “Young people don’t want to engage with just doom and gloom in their free time.” Their comments provided practical advice for scientists and policy-maker who want to engage with young climate activists. 

Both took part in various debates during the conference, including ‘Science and activism, science to change the world’ which they chaired. Their speakers in discussing making science more accessible to activists were wide-ranging: 

  • Sibeal Devilly of Social Justice Ireland 

  • Sumaya Ahmed, Student Climate Action Network 

  • Katherine Dooley, Environmental Protection Agency 

  • Rosalind Skillen, MSc in Environmental Policy student 

  • Wolfgang Pfefferkorn, CIPRA International 

  • Diandra Ni Bhuachalla, EESC Youth Delegate to COP28 

  • Aurora Audino, environmental engineer and Italy Youth4Climate Champion 

  • Julia Beier of Generation Climate Europe. 

GLOBE Ireland presented climate resilience school projects from students in Irish schools who won plaudits from their audience who described them as ‘inspirational’. 

Children as adaptation champions to change behaviours was highlighted by two speakers, Sonia Quiroga of Complutense University of Madrid, who worked with young pupils and school cooks to change their eating habits by creating more sustainably-sourced school meals, and Lindsey McEwen of the University of West of England, whose team produced two award-winning children’s books: one inspiring pupils to think about how much water is involved in producing items around the home and treating water as a valuable resource – DRY: The diary of a water superhero – and ‘Learning to live with Fog Monsters’ – created with pupils during the covid pandemic on how to cope with hard-to-envisage crises such as climate change. More than simply making children the focus of research, both projects reached out to teachers and parents to engage them with the background science, for example, the DRY project also developed teacher resources and lesson plans that accompany the DRY Diary. 

In the ECCA2023 closing plenary , Oileán, put her 12-year-old brother in the spotlight and then captured the mood of the conference when she asked of the audience: “How can all this service future generations?” Bringing any rhetoric down to earth and encouraging inclusivity, she said: “It is possible to forget that what we are talking about affects real people’s lives. This issue is inter-generational and it takes the whole family.” 

At the end of the closing plenary, Oileán  passed the ECCA baton to Aurora Audino, Italy Youth4Climate Champion, symbolically representing the handover of ECCA2023 in Ireland, to ECCA2025, when it was announced that the 7th edition of the conference will take place in Italy, in two years. 

Authors: Sally Stevens and Maija Malnaca

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