Northern Ireland news

North's climate change activists say Cop26 must deliver real change

Climate change activist Jacinta Hamley at Stormont. Picture by Hugh Russell

ACTIVISTS from the north have called for the United Nations' Cop26 climate summit to be a watershed moment in the global battle against climate change.

Dozens of activists will travel from Northern Ireland to attend the Glasgow summit, which begins tomorrow.

Jacinta Hamley (24) who grew up near Crossgar in Co Down, said she wants to see real change.

"A lot of people are claiming this is the last best chance for the world... But on the other hand there is a lot of rhetoric that this will be big words and empty promises that will not be met with concrete action," she said.

"It's such a vital time and I feel it's my civic duty to go there as one of the citizens who are trying to put pressure on the decision makers."

Ms Hamley, who is travelling to Scotland by ferry and bus, said countries must be held legally accountable if they do not meet their climate commitments.

"The (2015) Paris agreement talked a lot about goals (to keep the mean global temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius) but it didn't offer strategies on how to achieve them," she said.

"Ideally stronger, grounded commitments would come out of this that are binding."

Ms Hamley set up Climate Craic - Northern Ireland's first climate festival - which was held in September.

She wants to see governments, including the executive, give strong financial support to help citizens buy greener technologies, including home heating pumps.

However, she said people also need to alter their behaviour.

"I'm not saying that everyone has to be vegan but if you eat meat three times a day you really need to re-think that," she said.

She said the north needs to do its part to meet the UK's climate commitments.

"I find it challenging living in Northern Ireland and navigating this landscape between what Britain says and does and what Northern Ireland does," she said.

She added: "Sometimes Northern Ireland can get away with not doing as much. A lot of things seem to slip by."

Rosalind Skillen (23), who lives in east Belfast, is attending the conference as a representative of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful in the first week and the Future Leaders Network in the second week.

"There's been such an emphasis on Cop26 being the last chance for humanity to save itself from damage and halt or reverse ecological decline. It's really important to have an awareness of what's going on," she said.

"In the second week I'm going to be working on a research report with the Future Leaders network to try and help analyse the state of engagement of young people with Cop26. I think a lot of young people don't actually know what it is, why it matters and what is being discussed.

"I really want to go over so I can keep people updated on what is being discussed and how it will affect us."

Ms Skillen wants richer countries to give more money to mitigate the effects of climate change in the developing world.

"One of the big things for me is climate funding - richer countries funding the $100 billion a year to vulnerable countries that was promised at Cop15 in Copenhagen," she said.

"That money hasn't been seen... We have to make sure that justice is at the centre of Cop26 and making sure all our decisions - whether that be phasing out fossil fuels - will help those most affected by the climate crisis but have the least amount of responsibility. A sustainable future has to be a just one."

Northern Ireland has no climate change legislation.

A private member's bill, brought forward by Green Party leader Clare Bailey, aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the north to zero by 2045.

The agriculture minister, DUP MLA Edwin Poots, has brought forward his own, less ambitious, legislation.

Ms Skillen, who joked that she is a 'coptimist', said people should not lose hope around climate change.

"When we talk about the race to net zero Northern Ireland is often lagging behind the race," she said.

"(Scottish First Minister) Nichola Sturgeon has talked about a new green politics for Scotland. Everyone wants this green legacy.

"If leaders in Northern Ireland could see this as unifying people and bringing communities together it's a really good mission to get behind."

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