Creating a sustainable future at the local level

Published by Niall Sargent on

February 25th, 2019

Over one hundred people gathered in Kilkenny together with politicians, experts and civil society groups last weekend to discuss creative and practical climate actions that can be taken at a local level.

The event on Saturday – Creating a Local Sustainable Future – Practical Actions for your Community – was organised by the Public Participation Networks (PPN) of counties Kilkenny, Carlow, Wexford, Tipperary and Waterford with support from the Irish Environmental Network (IEN).  

The PPN is a countrywide initiative to build a network of community, social inclusion and environmental groups who work within each local authority area.  

Many challenges were brought up during the day, from a lack of awareness of damaging everyday actions, to the inadequate practices in place in our government and local councils.

The importance of local action and of conversation came up throughout the day, with an emphasis on including everybody in the conversation, and discussing mutually beneficial solutions to ensure that nobody is left behind.

Senator Grace O’Sullivan delivered the keynote address at the event about the growing demand for local solutions to the impending threat of climate change.

“The importance of ‘Think Global, Act Local’ has never been more evident than at the moment,” the Waterford native said.

“We need to give citizens a feeling of agency and improve support for and awareness of environmental initiatives designed to tackle the ecological crisis we face.”

During the day there were four breakout sessions, each focusing on an important issue that we face today, including biodiversity loss, with wildlife populations down 60 per cent in the last 40 years.

Pádraic Fogarty of the Irish Wildlife trust led a workshop to explore solutions to the extinction crisis this is happening “in parallel with the climate crisis”.

“Addressing both crises in tandem can bring enormous opportunities for local people when the right initiatives are put in place,” he said. “It is important the communities can appreciate how this is affecting the places in which they live and work.”

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There was also an interactive workshop to explore the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as the practical side of applying them to the work of community groups.

Davie Phillip of Cultivate, who for the last 20 years has helped to create sustainable communities and locally led initiatives, led this community orientated workshop.

Mr Phillip said that we need connection on a local level “more than ever” to tackle the “ecological crises and the existential threat of climate breakdown”.

“We are already vulnerable and these converging challenges will make our regions more fragile. We need to strengthen the resilience of our local places,” he said.

“There are many challenges that we face locally and globally as we look to adapt to a low carbon, sustainable society but this transition provides opportunities to reshape our communities, bring vitality and livelihoods to our local areas and make ourselves resilient – enabling us to surf the waves of change.”

Workshops were also held to explain how individuals can become more vocal about the need for climate action at a local level and actions that can be taken to protect water quality and look at what can be done within communities to help nurture healthy rivers and lakes.

Catherine O’Toole of the IEN said that the great turn out at the event shows that people around the country are becoming acutely aware of the threat of climate change.

She said that we are facing a “David and Goliath situation” where communities want to act but “find themselves fighting against outdated policies [and] climate action plans that are never put in place”.

“There is little to no help available for communities, and now they are realising that the only way to create change is to work together and do it themselves,” she said.

“I hope to see more of these meetings throughout the year, and help people connect through their Local Environmental Networks, keeping the conversation flowing and sharing our knowledge to make strengthening our actions easier for everyone.”

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London