Youth conference considers the challenge of climate change

Climate change is one of the most talked about and debated topics of our time and earlier this week, over 60 young people from across East Ayrshire gathered in the Council Chambers to make their voices heard on a range of environmental concerns as part of the East Ayrshire Youth Climate Change Conference.

The conference was hosted by East Ayrshire Council in conjunction with the Children and Young People’s Cabinet, in response to the recent media coverage of the climate emergency and to acknowledge that action is needed now to achieve zero carbon emissions targets over the next 20-30 years.

Delegates included young people from East Ayrshire’s primary and secondary schools, elected members and senior officers from East Ayrshire Council and partner organisations.

The agenda for the day was set by the young people themselves, based on feedback and suggestions from the Children and Young People’s Cabinet and the key themes set out in the Council’s Climate Change Declaration.

These included Sustainable Transport; Food and Local Procurement; Waste and Recycling; Energy Use and Buildings and Local Infrastructure.

In keeping with the themes of the day, pupil delegates were transported from school to the conference by the Council’s own fleet of electric vehicles.The event itself was paper-free, with all materials available online, and the lunch buffet consisted of quality sustainable produce.

The event was formally opened by Council Leader, Douglas Reid. He said: “This event was arranged in response to our young people wanting to have a say in how we tackle climate change.

“All around the world, young people are supporting Greta Thunberg by participating in climate change strikes and demonstrations, but the young people of East Ayrshire wanted to be more productive and to have more of a say in terms of what could be done at a local level.

“Today’s event is all about looking at what changes we can make – both individually and collectively, to help make a difference at home, at school, at work, in our communities, and ultimately, at a global level.”

Using state-of-the-art technology, delegates participated in a series of interactive presentations and pupils back at school were able to follow the proceedings online and also contribute to the interactive sessions.

The young presenters had worked alongside a number of Council officers to research and prepare for the event.

First up was Kirsty from Loudoun Academy, who presented jointly with Transport Manager, Kenny Markwick, on the topic of sustainable transport.

Aimee  from Kilmarnock Academy was joined by Food Service Manager, Mark Hunter during her presentation on Food and Local Procurement.

Terri, a student at Strathclyde University and member of the Children and Young People’s Cabinet and Ewan from Kilmarnock Academy were accompanied by Waste Service Manager, Malcolm Rae for their presentation on Waste and Recycling.

Ayrshire College student Sinead  was joined by Facilities and Property Management Officers, Magnus Dowie and Kenny Nicolson to discuss energy use and buildings, and last but not least, Liam from Cumnock Academy was accompanied by Head of Planning, Michael Keane as they explored the issues surrounding local infrastructure in terms of energy generation and digital provision.

The energy in the room was palpable as the young people eagerly contributed to lively discussions and passionately debated the topics with elected members, senior officers and industry specialists.

At the end of the event delegates were invited to make a pledge – what would they do to help protect the planet and reduce carbon emissions? The responses were fantastic and varied, but all equally supportive of making a difference….

Stop buying fast fashion and reuse more clothes”

“Use digital platforms to spread awareness”

“Turn off lights in empty offices/rooms/classrooms”

“Encourage friends and family to recycle food waste”

“Stop leaving gadgets on stand-by”

“Use own containers for buying fruit and veg”

“Choosing to walk or take the bus instead of the car”

“Wear a jumper instead of turning up the heating”

“Grow my own vegetables”

Closing remarks were delivered by Head of Education, Linda McAulay-Griffiths, who was clearly moved by the contributions from all the young people present.

She said: “This event will be the first of many conversations we will have with our young people as we drive forward this agenda. Our young people are passionate and well informed on these matters and as we’ve seen today, they genuinely want to make a difference.

“These young people are the future of East Ayrshire and I’m convinced that in years to come they will find the answers to many of the problems discussed here today.”

In a rousing conclusion to the day she said: “Together we can make a difference. To save our climate we need to….participate, innovate, communicate, activate, educate, mitigate, circulate, integrate, motivate and collaborate… but we must not hesitate!”

Comments and feedback collated as part of the conference will be used to inform the Council’s Climate Change Declaration, which will be presented to cabinet in the near future.