Children's Report on Climate - UNICEF Ireland

Children's Report on Climate 

For the Committee on the Rights of the Child's State Review

Children's Report on Climate  

Who we are

This report was compiled by Climate Rights Ireland, a group of young people working with the support of UNICEF to investigate and report on how the climate crisis interacts with children’s rights in Ireland. We worked as a team of entirely young people, led by young people, to create a report for young people. This report was sent to the Committee for the Rights of the Child as part of the UNCRC state review of Ireland. We hope that this report will be a catalyst for change and drive a shift in Ireland’s performance on the climate crisis and children’s rights. 

What we want to come from this report

We have included key recommendations under each Article for the change the Irish government ought to deliver. Ultimately, we want systemic change that places the rights of children and the planet at the forefront. We want justice, equity, and a sustainable society. Our aim is that future reports do not need to highlight these issues and that this report can act as a mechanism for this change to be delivered.

Main Findings

Article 2

No discrimination

The Rural-Urban Divide and the Climate Crisis

The data below illustrates the disproportionate impact the climate crisis has on rural areas and alongside the divide to provide necessary resources to those affected. Young people were consulted on the following topics:

  1. Impact of the climate crisis
  2. Access to resources and support
  3. Access to a Just Transition  (a transition to a more sustainable world that protects those who are most vulnerable in society, like children) 

How young people in rural Ireland have been impacted by the climate crisis.

During our consultation, it became evident that children living in rural areas had a disproportionate amount of experience in dealing with the impacts of the climate crisis. 

58% of rural respondents (Figure 2) had been impacted by the climate crisis, compared to just 21% of urban respondents (Figure 1). This shows that rural respondents have been much more heavily impacted by the climate crisis. 

Despite only 31.4% of Ireland’s population living in a rural area, rural respondents made up over ¾ of the total respondents who answered ‘yes’ to having been impacted by the climate crisis (Figure 3). This further shows a disproportionate impact. 

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

How supported do young people in rural communities feel they have been supported in accessing resources, managing impacts and accessing a just transition?

In our research, there was a notable discrepancy between rural and urban respondents in the level of support offered to achieve a just transition. 

65.6% of those who rated the support offered to their community in the 1-2 (lowest) range were from rural areas. Not a single urban respondent gave a score of 1 (lowest). (Figures 4 and 5)

 

Figure 4

 

In accessing governmental support for a Just Transition there is a concerning discrepancy, with 65.5% of rural respondents rating support as low compared to 28.8% in urban areas (Figure 6). 

Young people are feeling the impact of this in their day-to-day lives, one commenting “How can we have transitions to solutions that don’t even exist”. The farming community bears a particular burden here, “[there are] no grants which most people need, e.g small farmers cannot afford greener options”.

Figure 5

68% of respondents who reported that resources were inaccessible to them were from rural areas, compared to 4% in suburban areas and 12% in urban areas (Figure 7). One participant in our consultation states; “I live in a rural area and though we have the space for greener alternatives, we are never paid any heed, or given any options”. 

There is a disparity in the quality of resources available. A participant noted that electric cars at petrol stations are “often broken, which turns people off switching to electric cars”. 

Furthermore, young people often have to find climate information themselves in sources outside of school. “[There are] not many physical resources but I am fortunate enough to have good WIFI and internet connection so I can find plenty of resources online.”  When asked where they find information about the climate crisis one rural participant said ‘Only online and only if I seek them out myself’.

 

Recommendations

Based on our research regarding discrimination and inequality surrounding:

  1. Impacts of the climate crisis
  2. Supports for dealing with the impacts of the crisis
  3. Accessibility of resources
  4. Government support for accessing a Just Transition

We make the following recommendations:

  1. Transport
    1. Comprehensive rural public transport infrastructure
    2. 15-minute cities- walkable and accessible by public transport 
    3. Increased pedestrianisation in cities 
    4. This will work to reduce discrimination between rural and urban and also increase the ability of children to access opportunities in education and employment. 
  2. Just Transition
    1. Economically incentivise sustainable farming and support the farming community. 
    2. Place the policy emphasis on those who are most responsible by focusing on corporations. 
    3. Engaging with children in the Travelling Community
    4. Provide more community resources such as bins, benches, and cycle paths.
    5. Engage with and support rural Ireland
      1. ‘Farmers are barely talked about’
    6. More accessible grants for electric cars and solar panels
    7. Retraining and supporting continued employment in alternative sectors.
  3. Education
    1. Implement Education for Sustainable Development.
    2. Introduce a TY module on climate action.
    3. Focus education on empowerment and developing key skills. 
    4. Free third-level education.
    5. Comprehensive youth involvement in designing education that places youth voices at the forefront.

Article 6

The Right to Survival and Development

How the Climate Crisis Impacts Children’s Lives 

In our research, 42% of children surveyed stated they had been impacted by the climate crisis (figure 1). This includes increased flooding across the country and extreme weather events such as Storm Ophelia.  Participants stated that weather conditions are negatively affecting their everyday lives. One participant stated that their crops are dying more frequently in the heat waves Ireland is experiencing. Another drew attention to flooding in Cork City, and how this has had a negative effect on their sense of safety as well as the local economy and livelihoods. Participants described excess waste of water in heatwaves, and heating in ‘freezing winters’, as well as increased anxiety as a result of experiencing these abnormal weather conditions.

As a result of this, children outlined a negative impact on their mental health and sense of security. Children outlined feelings of anxiety and a burden of responsibility as a result of a lack of action by current generations in power. They also stated they did not feel they were receiving adequate support, or that the government was taking adequate climate action which is compounding the negative impact on their mental health. Below are some of the ways children described this:

How, if at all, has the climate crisis impacted your mental health and feeling of security?

  • “Climate change has made me question if I have a future. It’s horrible to know that climate change will probably cause my death and yet no one seems to be doing anything about it”
  • “The poor air quality due to climate change and other industrial work in my town has severely harmed both my physical and mental health”
  • “The government has done nothing about [the climate crisis] and it makes me fear for the security of my fellow townspeople and I”
  • “I am in constant fear of losing my family as a result of climate change (e.g. due to air quality), as someone who is very anxious it causes me a lot of mental stress and depression”
  • “General climate anxiety gets to me when I consider my future and if there will be a livable future at all”

Alongside this impact on children’s mental health, we heard fears around their future and development. Children outlined feeling ‘helpless and hopeless’ stating ‘the future is honestly terrifying’. Members of the Focus Group outlined how climate change has impacted how they plan for the future. They stated that they are ‘unsure’ about what the planet will look like and that ‘climate change threatens the existence of my future’. Children asked ‘do I want to bring children into a world with climate change?’ when discussing their future, further illustrating the profound impact the climate crisis is having on their sense of security. 

From this, it becomes clear that the climate crisis is causing a negative impact on children’s mental health and sense of security, which is being increased by a feeling of a lack of action.

Children’s Views on Government Action

Participants, overall, felt the government has not taken adequate action to stop the climate crisis, and mitigate its harm. Children outlined a need for action on the crisis as a whole, support to protect communities, and increased mental health support.

Participants outlined a lack of action from the Irish government in drastically lowering emissions, achieving climate justice, and tackling the roots of the crisis. A “burden of responsibility” was referenced by one child, who felt that our generation will have to be the ones to ‘clean up’ after this government does not take the action needed. Another stated this lack of action has caused them to “fear for the security” of themselves and their community. Participants’ feelings about the action taken by the Irish government to tackle the climate crisis are illustrated below:

Children also outlined a lack of adequate support from the government in dealing with the impacts of the climate crisis. 15% of participants gave a score of 1 (1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest) when asked ‘How well is your community-supported in dealing with the impacts of the climate crisis?’ (Figure 2). Over ¾ (78.6) gave a score of 3 or below. This shows a lack of support for communities in facing the climate crisis, and further adds to the negative impact on children’s sense of security and safety in relation to this crisis.

Finally, building upon the impact of the climate crisis on children’s mental health, participants described a lack of adequate mental health support. This, coupled with a failure to take effective climate action, further damages children’s sense of security and safety. 

Recommendations

  1. Systemic action to tackle the climate crisis.
  2. Clear communication of action being taken, without greenwashing.
  3. Investment in and expansion of mental health services for young people. 
  4. Community support for resilience and adaptation to protect young people from the impacts of the climate crisis.

Article 12

The right to participation

Engagement of Children in Decision Making

The aim of this section is to illustrate, with the aid of statistics, how engaged and involved young people in Ireland feel in terms of climate action, climate policy, and decision making. 

The data below illustrates that young people do not feel listened to in climate policy in Ireland. Where spaces are created, their input is not meaningfully taken onboard. These spaces can be inaccessible, tokenistic, and lack impact. These must be reformed to provide accessibility, accountability, and support, as outlined in our recommendations. 

Our Findings

The key answer from Focus Groups and the survey about whether the government listened to young people was no. 

Issues raised:

Lack of meaningful listening:
  • It was found that young people in Ireland felt that their voices were being tokenised and then brushed aside, ‘it most feels performative’ 
  • Focus Group members took the necessary steps to engage their decision-makers but faced ignorance or disregard for their concerns. 
  • The few who felt somewhat listened to by the government stated that it never translated into real policy and change.
  • Young people stated that they felt heard but not seen by the Irish government. They felt that their strikes were heard but the necessary action needed didn’t follow. They expressed their disheartenment for this because they are deeply concerned for their future, or what is to come of it.
  • One young person stated that they emailed ALL their representatives and only received 1 response. Young people stated that they have no avenues to directly communicate their concerns and opinions and demands to their representatives.
  • One member said our voices are ‘rarely ever taken on board to the extent that [they need] to be’
Lack of spaces to engage: 
  • Young people stated that they felt there was no clear space in Ireland for young people to state their concerns and give their input. This made them feel closed off from the decision-making sphere. 
  • Some young people felt that there were sometimes opportunities to be listened to. But they agreed that there need to be more clear and open avenues of communication for young people to speak to their decision-makers. They felt that their opinions hold value as it is their future in danger. 
  • The lack of climate and political education aimed at creating skills and youth engagement was raised.
  • Government language and processes can be inaccessible and full of jargon. 
  • Lack of representation of young people in policy-making spheres. 
Lack of sense of urgency
  • Young people stated that they felt the government understood the severity of the issue but didn’t fully comprehend the urgency of climate justice. 
  • They felt isolated in their wants for immediate climate justice-oriented action as the government seemed to be focusing on small-term mitigation and long-term tactics to reduce the impact of the climate crisis.
Barriers to engaging

80% of participants felt there were barriers preventing young people from being heard on the climate crisis. Below are quotes from participants describing this issue:

    • ‘Young people are not respected’
    • ‘Dismissive attitudes from adults and politicians’
    • ‘Not being taken seriously 
    • ‘As youth, our voices seem to be neglected as we are more so looked at as underage and most adults would think that we are either disrespectful or we don’t know what we are talking about but we are the future and it’s us that should have a say in a lot of climate-related discussions’
    • ‘Lack of communication, lack of respect and attention given by the government, no information exchange between youth and government body’ 
    • ‘The government won’t listen and take on what the young people say, they hope we will stop but we won’t.’ 
    • ‘Their level of education on how the state operates politically, as this restricts them from understanding what happens with their expressed voices at a national level. And how much of that voice is taken not only ‘on board’, but is actually acted upon.’
    • ‘No one really takes us seriously until it’s way too late.’ 

Recommendations

The overwhelming call from participants was one for accountability, accessibility, and support to solve this issue. 

  1. Accountability

The Irish government must be accountable to young people and translate their input into real policy, rather than a box-ticking exercise. 

  1. The government should follow up on the ideas raised by young people. They should communicate clearly about the next steps and how young people will continue to be engaged. There should be measurable, impactful consequences of all youth engagement. 
  2. Youth engagement should focus on broader, systemic issues of policy rather than solely on individual change. 
  3. The government should improve the distribution of public funds for climate justice and consultation. 
  4. Young people should be included in the Climate Change Advisory Council.
  5. Comhairle na nÓg should be reformed. 
  6. Representatives should regularly consult young people. 
  7. The government should establish a Youth Citizens Assembly on climate with a binding mandate. 

 

  1. Accessibility

The government should provide clear and accessible mechanisms for young people to engage with their decision-makers.

  1. They should encourage young people of all backgrounds to engage, including those with no prior experience in the climate movement. 
  2. These spaces should include comprehensive and accessible information to help participants engage. 
  3. These should be widely communicated and should aim to be representative of Ireland’s youth population. 
  4. These should be accessible to all. 
  5. The government should explore lowering the voting age. 

 

  1. Support
    1. The government should improve funding for youth organisations
    2. Education for Sustainable Development must be provided and improved at all levels.
    3. Education and support should focus on climate justice, science, and intersectionality. It should be aimed at empowerment and skills development. 

Article 22

The right as a refugee to protection and humanitarian assistance

The Climate Crisis and Refugee Children in Ireland

This part of the report deals with the connection between the climate crisis and refugee children in Ireland, in particular children living in Direct Provision. To conduct our research, we met with members of Abolish Direct Provision (DP) to communicate the lived experience of children impacted in this area. 

Our findings:

  • The climate crisis is impacting children across the world, with approximately 1 billion children at ‘extremely high risk’ of the impacts of the climate crisis. Since 2008, there has been an average of 67,000 displacements each day as a result of floods, windstorms, earthquakes, or droughts. Despite this, the term ‘climate refugee’ has no international legal recognition.
  • Abolish DP outlined the climate crisis also affects how children travel to Ireland, for example, it may prevent them from walking or sailing. 
  • Children make up almost 30% of Direct Provision residents. 
  • Abolish DP stated ‘the trauma inflicted in this system harms children’s mental health and wellbeing. Some people stay in DP for up to 20 years. This acts as incarceration’ 
  • Key issues for children in DP are impacts on mental health, restriction of movement and freedom, loss of motivation and lack of independence.
  • We must connect climate action to refugees, the climate crisis forces people to leave their homes and the two struggles are connected. 

Recommendations

  • A change in the length of time for cases to be resolved- they should be resolved in under six months.
  • An end to people profiting off of the incarceration of children in DP.
  • People in DP should be able to grow food and have food sovereignty.
  • Abolish DP stated Ireland should be taxing corporations and monitoring the gas release of large corporations.

CONCLUSION

This report is the product of consultation with a large group of young people from across Ireland. It is imperative that young people, especially those who are not often heard by those in power, are engaged and consulted at every step along the way to a Just Transition. 

It is clearly evident that adequate action is not being delivered on the four areas examined throughout this report. However, there is still time for a radical shift in the right direction. We have presented our ideas for change through our recommendations, and we ask that our government deliver upon these. Now, more than ever, we need an evolution in our way of thinking in order to deliver a better, brighter future. 

 

Methodology

Beginning the report:

  • We formed the Working Group and met to outline the main focus of the report.
  • We met with UNICEF and CERI to discuss prior work on children’s rights and the climate crisis and how this report can contribute to the wider conversation.
  • We decided to structure the report around 4 key articles of the UNCRC and how they relate to children’s rights and the climate crisis: Articles 2, 6, 12 and 22.
  • We created a timeline to plan out the report.

Collecting data:

In order to make sure our data was as representative of the population as possible, including children of all backgrounds and levels of familiarity with the climate crisis, we collected research through a variety of methods. 

Survey

We conducted a survey of children across Ireland regarding Articles 2, 6, and 12. The survey included questions around participation, impacts of the climate crisis, feelings of security, and much more. The full survey can be viewed here.

The survey was shared across youth activism networks as well as our social media page. With the aim of reaching young people not already involved in the climate movement, we reached out to organisations, who work with young people, who kindly shared our survey with their networks. 

When we closed the survey, we validated all responses to ensure they were from young people and to avoid duplicate responses. 

Focus Groups:

On August 16th, 2021, we held an online event with Focus Groups of young people from across Ireland to discuss Articles 2, 6, and 12. The Focus Groups were formed through an open sign-up online on our social media and shared with a variety of youth organisations. 

The groups discussed Article 12 in the morning, and Articles 2 and 6 in the afternoon. Discussions were centered around prompt questions drafted by the group and evolved from these. We used collaborative online tools such as Mural to allow participants to work together in real-time. These virtual whiteboards were then used to ensure our data captured what the young people were saying to the best of our ability. 

Article 22:

To collect data regarding Direct Provision, its link with the climate crisis, and its impacts on children’s rights, we contacted Abolish Direct Provision- a group working to further the rights and protections of those living in Direct Provision. They kindly agreed to meet with us and conducted an interview, centered around the issue of the climate crisis and the rights of refugees  We recorded their answers and have compiled this alongside secondary data. 

Other sources of data:

We received input from the ISSU Debate Your Decision-Makers event in April 2021, and conducted secondary research throughout this report. 

Analysing and Compiling the Data:

  • When we had finished collecting data, we began to analyse it and compile this report.
  • We met in person, in line with COVID-19 restrictions, and reviewed all the data we had collected section-by-section, bringing together data from all of our sources. We identified the key trends and formed recommendations from what was said by participants. 
  • After this, we wrote the sections together and reviewed them as a group.