Student activist discusses climate change realities at Our Ocean Wealth Summit

Student activist discusses climate change realities at Our Ocean Wealth Summit
Alicia O'Sullivan, Ireland's Youth Ambassador for the Oceans speaking at the our Our Ocean Wealth Summit 'Shared Voices from Small Island Nations'. More than 30 small island nations attended the Summit in City Hall Cork to discuss the health of the oceans. Picture: Clare Keogh

A young Irish activist and youth ambassador has described the realities of climate change as terrifying and challenged world leaders to act now to save her generation's future.

Alicia O'Sullivan, 17, from West Cork, told delegates at the Our Ocean Wealth Summit in Cork that she, like other teenagers around the world, is worried about school, exams and relationships.

"But I am worried about something far greater - my future," she said.

"And I am not alone, with 1.6m young people from all over 123 countries scared. We are scared that we will not have what you had."

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 Ambassador 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, Tanaiste Simon Coveney and former US Secretary of State John Kerry with Selina Leem, Marshall Islands Youth Ambassador at the our Our Ocean Wealth Summit 'Shared Voices from Small Island Nations'. Picture: Clare Keogh

But what is different about her generation, she said, is their ability to connect on a global scale to demand action and a collaborative approach from governments, scientists, media, policymakers and business people, to work together to address the climate crisis.

The activist, who has just finished fifth year at Skibbereen Community School, said everyone in every sector needs to refocus their humanity and focus on what really matters - people, love, culture and home.

But she spoke of her frustration at how, on the one hand, people talk about reducing the use of plastics and of slowing the pace of global warming, while in her own town, Skibbereen, there are plans to build a plastics factory while in nearby Bantry, a licence has been granted for a mechanical kelp farming operation. Kelp absorbs carbon very effectively.

"This is not just about my town. This is about the global problem," she said.

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.

And quoting the 16-year-old climate activist, Greta Thunberg, who has inspired a global movement she said: "I don't want your hope. I want you to panic and act as if the house is on fire - because it is."

Ms O'Sullivan was among several youth ambassadors from all over the world attending the summit who got to discuss climate issues with former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and Tánaiste Simon Coveney, at a behind closed doors meeting after the morning session.

Former US Secretary of State John Kerry and Alicia O'Sullivan, Ireland's Youth Ambassador for the Oceans. Picture: Clare Keogh
Former US Secretary of State John Kerry and Alicia O'Sullivan, Ireland's Youth Ambassador for the Oceans. Picture: Clare Keogh

She said they told the two statesmen that they feel the youth voice is not being heard enough.

The two leaders said work is being done to address the climate crisis but it is important that they continue to organise, lobby and speak out to keep the pressure on governments to act quickly.

Ms O'Sullivan said she believes that young people today feel more motivated to vote in future elections because who they elect will have a direct impact on the future of the planet.

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