Leaders hear Cork teen’s plea on climate

Youth activist Alicia O’Sullivan from West Cork, aged 17, was among those who addressed the Ocean Wealth Summit in Cork this week, which was attended by more than 30 world leaders and VIPs. Here’s her speech.
Leaders hear Cork teen’s plea on climate
Alicia O'Sullivan, Ireland's Youth Ambassador for the Oceans, Tanaiste Simon Coveney and former US Secretary of State John Kerry with Selina Leem, Marshall Islands Youth Ambassadorat the our Our Ocean Wealth Summit.  Picture: Clare Keogh

MY name is Alicia O Sullivan and I am a 17-year-old youth activist from Ireland.

At the age of 17 most teenagers will worry about school, exams, relationships. But I am worried about something far greater, my future. And I am not alone, with 1.6 million young people from all over 123 countries scared. We are scared that we will not have what you had.

We cannot plan.

We cannot focus

We cannot settle.

We cannot be happy.

But we can connect. The youth of this world are calling upon everyone, governments, scientists, media, policymakers, businesses and the people to work together on this because it is only ever going to work if it is a collaborative effort.

While I understand we live in an economic structure, I strongly believe everyone in every sector needs to refocus their humanity. We have lost some of our values. Let me tell you what really matters, People, Love, Culture, Home.

Like I mentioned earlier I live in West Cork which is about an hour and a half away from here. In the town where I live there has been planning permission granted for a 4,800sq/km thermoplastics factory. I have recently joined the campaign to attempt to stop this happening.

Our fishermen here in Ireland have cleaned up 330 tonnes of marine waste of mainly plastics from our oceans since 2015 under the BIMS Fishing for Litter Scheme, they do this without incentives or extra pay just so they can protect their livelihoods and the industry for their children and our ocean.

Alicia O'Sullivan, Ireland's Youth Ambassador for the Oceans speaking  at the our Our Ocean Wealth Summit 'Shared Voices from Small Island Nations'. Picture: Clare Keogh
Alicia O'Sullivan, Ireland's Youth Ambassador for the Oceans speaking  at the our Our Ocean Wealth Summit 'Shared Voices from Small Island Nations'. Picture: Clare Keogh

We are talking about trying to reduce how fast the earth is heating, how much plastic we consume and how much toxicness ends up in the ocean and we are then going to build a new plastics factory?

During the week I also met another campaign from West Cork. In Bantry, a nearby town to me again there has been granting of a licence to mechanically extract 1860 acres of kelp. Kelp absords 5 times more carbon than any land based plant. We are trying to reduce and stop our carbon emissions and we are going to get rid of something that naturally helps us to do that. The people I have spoken to about both these situations have asked me as a young person If I am sad or angry or possibly both. I am deeply frustrated. I see millions of young people cover Twitter feeds, newspaper articles and even get direct response from political leaders that action must and will be taken to fight climate change, and I then look at my town. And I see this happening.

But this is not just about my town, this is about the global problem we have. See everyone in this room has one thing in common. Our home is this earth. I don’t want a plastics factory built in my town or any other town, I don’t want kelp extracted from Bantry bay or any other Bay, I don’t want towns, cities, nations submerged, whole towns being wiped out from storms, families suffering severely from droughts, lives lost.

Our home does not deserve any of this.

Since 1993 there has been a 3.3mm change in sea level every year 90% of the earths warming has occurred since 1950. 50% of all species could be lost by the end of this century. 8 million tonnes of plastic enters the sea each year.

All of these are connected. Everything that is happening locally is why we have such a global issue at hand and this is why as a people we need to connect and act.

The Sustainable Development Goals have already told us what we need to do and we need to fulfill our commitment to that and we need to do this right now. This is not about political status, economic structure or money anymore, this is about the future of our world.

This event has brought 30 small island nations together from all across the world, we are a small island state and we are here today with you, other small island states in this room, who are affected in a disproportionate way. We have been brought together to fight climate change, because as you know climate change is now.

In the past week I have had the opportunity to learn so much more about climate change than I already knew and the realities are truly terrifying. What has hit me greatly is the extent of a role law plays in all of this. I’ve wanted to pursue law since the age of 12 but now I do more than ever.

The Climate Strikers are young people whose values have not yet been messed with, we see what must be done for this planet and to uphold our future on it, we see our leaders as people who have the power to act in the time that our planet needs saving. Laws, policies and strategies all need to be severely refocused if we are going to tackle climate change and you all have the power to do that.

To quote the leader of the global youth strikes, Grieta Thunberg ‘I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic... and act as if the house was on fire... because it is’ .

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