Northern Ireland’s COP26 Youth Ambassador, Emer Rafferty, shares her personal reflections with young people, following her time at the conference in Glasgow.
As well as being a Youth Ambassador, Emer has been working with her local community to help boost the ecosystem by planting wildflowers, clearing the streets of litter and many other activities around Armagh.
Going to COP26, Emer was hoping to see world leaders discuss moving to a greener world, as well new innovations to help inspire and fight against climate change, as well as talking to others who are as passionate about our world as she is.
We asked Emer about her time at Glasgow, asking about what she saw and what has inspired her for the future of the environment. This is what she said about how she felt.
1. Has your time at COP26 changed in any way how you would approach climate change activism in the future?
Being at COP26 has enlightened me with what activism is, and how activism comes in all different forms. The people dancing on the street were activists, the determined people marching were activists, and some of the people inside the COP26 building were activists too…
We need all the types of activists, and COP26 showed that, despite the different approaches of activism, they were all ‘ACT’ing and not just talking.
2. Was there anything in particular that inspired you at COP26? Perhaps a speaker or a new green technology?
A Scottish man who spoke at a Green Zone event talked about Lives, Language and Land – how we can relate land to nature. He was someone I would consider as inspirational. When speaking to this gentleman after the event, it was a wholesome conversation. His wisdom was beautiful and his deep understanding of how we should treat the land as we treat ourselves was eye-opening. I felt refreshed after our chat.
Additionally, the innovative technology coming out around the world to help in the climate crisis is exciting and plays a huge role in turning this around. Nevertheless, I was delighted to see the talk about nature – based solutions; capturing carbon through regenerative farming, peatland, forest and ocean restoration etc.
3. For those young people in Northern Ireland who expected more from COP26, and who want to get more involved in helping the environment – what would you encourage them to do?
What you can do right now is use your voice and your vote. Speaking up doesn’t cost any money; we have strength in numbers. I would encourage you to contact your local MLAs and ask questions to businesses and other consumers like ourselves and get the conversation moving with people you meet.
My environmental journey began locally, grew nationally and then internationally. If it wasn’t for organizations like Ulster Wildlife, BITC and Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to meet others like me or have my voice heard as well as it is. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to join these kinds of organisations, you definitely won’t regret it!
4. Following your time at COP26, have you got a message that you think young people living in Northern Ireland need to hear? Did you for example, hear about exciting new skills or career opportunities in a new low carbon society?
Whilst I am fearful for the future, I am also excited because the career opportunities are never-ending as every company must make moves to be environmentally responsible.
Every sector and career path needs more environmentalists; politics, engineering, business and so on. No matter what path you go down, bring to the table your enthusiasm and desire to help our planet.
I am sad to say, however, that activists and environmentalists don’t often get into politics because it appears a “hard environment” as a Glaswegian activist said. However, if it is the political will that we lack here in Northern Ireland, then perhaps it is that political will that we must restore.
5. Was there anything that you learned at COP26 that surprised you?
COP26 taught me a lot about different kinds of people. It taught me that there are millions of other Emers… I also learnt that, within the native Irish and Scottish Celtic languages, each letter in the alphabets represent a tree. Many years ago, people were much more connected to the land; every time they spoke, they brought nature into the conversation. My hope is that today’s society can get back to that level of respect for the land in which we live and rely upon.
I learnt that, while at COP26, every single action I take makes an impact; it may be miniscule, but is it something, and when that is scaled to millions of others like me, we are all doing our bit. I learnt that when we all pull together, to fight for our home, Mother Nature and our future, we can make amazing things happen. We are a team of many, from all around the world, and we are all united for what is a meaningful cause. Will you join the team or sit on the side-line? I think I know the answer!
Here at MyNI, we’re glad to have people like Emer who are passionate about playing their part to help the environment and create a better, greener future for us all to enjoy and preserve. We hope that her words will help inspire others around us to help make a difference and move towards helping the planet and each other.
If you would like to have your voice heard, you can start now by giving your feedback about the recent Northern Ireland draft Environment Strategy.