Life

Down woman Jacinta hoping for a fair wind on climate change voyage of a lifetime

In many ways, our future relies on the passion and single mindedness of young climate change crusaders like those about to board a tall ship bound for the 25th UN Conference on Climate Change in Chile. Sole Northern Ireland participant Jacinta Hamley spoke to Gail Bell about her hopes and fears for a voyage of a lifetime

Jacinta Hamley flies the flag for climate crisis solutions at Donegall Quay in Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
Gail Bell

THE fact she hasn't quite found her sea legs yet is no deterrent to Jacinta Hamley, the only Northern Ireland representative on the Regina Maris, a three-mast schooner which will set sail from The Netherlands next month for what is hoped will be a life – and future – changing event in Chile.

The 22-year-old graduate who grew up near Crossgar, Co Down, is one of 36 resolute young participants on the COP25 (Conference of Parties) trip to Santiago for the 25th UN Conference on Climate Change – none of whom will be waylaid by anything as mundane as sea-seasickness.

She may laugh off any suggestions of similarities to Sweden's young champion for climate change, Greta Thunberg, but Jacinta is every bit as passionate and, after recently imposing a 'no fly' mission on her own globe-trotting plans, is currently in the process of setting up a personal website and blog offering advice and information on sustainable travel.

With experts outlining a doomsday scenario demonstrated already through glaciers shrinking, sea levels rising and heat waves becoming longer and more intense – largely due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities – Jacinta is determined to do her bit in influencing the influencers at the global conference in December.

"I am so excited to be sailing on this tall ship for what will really be a voyage of a lifetime," she says. "We leave from Scheveningen, close the The Hague, in early October and will be at sea for around eight weeks, during which time we will prepare a portfolio of solutions and pathways to a fair and sustainable travel sector through our sailing think tank.

"I think we get to make four stops for fresh food and stretch our legs at Casablanca, Tenerife, Cabo Verde and Recife, before arriving in Rio de Janeiro around the 20th of November and then travelling overland to Chile. I haven't really done any sailing before, so I am a little worried about sea-sickness on rough seas, but I've been told it's a case of mind over matter, so we'll see how it goes.

"I had my first real training session on Strangford Lough recently and I went out just to get a feel for what it's like to be on a boat – it was actually really rough conditions and we had quite a hard time!"

Inexperience aside, an impressive academic background – she studied Earth, Energy and Sustainability at Leiden University College in The Netherlands – helped in the selection process, with hands-on sailing skills provided on board, in between 'think tank' sessions and downtime activities including yoga.

Passionate about animals and the environment since she was a small child, Jacinta says her dedication to the cause only intensified during her years at university and gleaning a deeper understanding of the issues from her particular course of study.

"As I grew up, I became more aware of the impact humans have on the environment, both currently and historically, and that impact is now being felt," she says. "I started to become concerned on a deeper level than what you immediately see around you, so I really wanted to study that further and have a greater knowledge and understanding of what is at stake."

The issues keep her awake at night to the extent she has gone from feeling "some guilt" when taking a flight, to trying to avoid airports altogether, and while being a fan of the aforementioned Greta Thunberg, she feels a "little frustrated" with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's recently well-publicised trips on private jets.

"I think we should all explore what alternatives there are and embrace them when possible," she says. "If there is a good rail connection, for instance, I think that should always be the first option – and there is a really great one from London to Amsterdam, so it would have been nice to have seen Prince Harry consider the train for his trip [ironically, to launch a project aimed at boosting sustainable tourism] to Amsterdam this month.

"Flying to European cities for short breaks can be quite stressful, involving quick turnarounds, and you don't always come back refreshed or invigorated the way you intended, so, for quick getaways, I make a point now of looking closer to home, exploring parts of Ireland I haven't been to yet, or maybe going on a spa day or a hike up the Mournes."

The group arrives in Brazil in November, travelling on then to Valparaiso in Chile for the COY15 (Conference of Youth) before heading to Santiago for the main event where members hope to raise awareness and "push world leaders to act".

The main aim is to draw attention to the topic of aviation and a lack of global regulation, as Jacinata points out that emissions from this industry alone will undermine efforts in all other sectors. (Among the many sobering facts on the project's website sailtothecop.com is one which states that if aviation continues along its current trajectory, emissions are expected to exceed the complete global CO2 budget to limit global warming to 1.5C by 2050).

It's all very serious stuff, but ahead of her great voyage of discovery she has been trying to switch off with yoga and relaxing "back home" with family and friends.

"For me, home will always be Belfast," she says. "It's hard to say where I'll end up after this journey, but it's important to do what you can because it makes me deeply nervous when I think too much about the future and the impact of climate change which will be felt across the world.

"I recently heard someone sum it up really nicely – 'We're currently deciding what the quality of life for our future and for future generations will be'. That thought drives me and also makes me thankful that we're still at the point where can do something about it."

:: Participants have raised funds for the trip through collective crowdfunding and must also contribute €2,500 each. Anyone interested in helping Jacinta with fundraising efforts can visit her GoFundMe page at https://tinyurl.com/y64534kr

More information at sailtothecop.com

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