“The beginning of something special”: 16 schools lead Ireland’s ground-breaking first cross-border schools climate conference in Belfast

“The beginning of something special”: 16 schools lead Ireland’s ground-breaking first cross-border schools climate conference in Belfast

Mon 06 Feb 2023 by Andrew McAnallen

BELFAST 16 schools from all corners of the island of Ireland gathered in Belfast on Wednesday 1 February for the inaugural All-island Schools 4 Climate Action Conference; the first cross-border conference of its kind on the island of Ireland.

The conference was held in the state-of-the-art W5 Interactive Discovery Centre, located in the SSE Arena in Belfast, and stems from the All-island Schools 4 Climate Action programme, which delivers Alison environmental science courses to students in second-level schools and supports schools to take collective action to address the climate emergency, through climate action campaigns.

(Left to Right) Sean Lundy (St. Patrick’s Grammar School, Co. Down); Stella Gill (St. Colmans Community College, Co. Cork); Saoirse O’ Neill (St. Brogan’s College, Co. Cork); Eliana Moroney (Carrigtwohill Community College, Co. Cork); Grace Campbell (Down High School, Co. Down); Aoibhe O Brien (Colaiste Fionnchua, Co. Cork); Morgan McGrellis (Bishop McEgan College, Co. Cork); Daisy Moore (Elphin Community College, Co. Roscommon); Ciaran McErlane (St. Malachy’s College, Co. Antrim); Jordan Venter-Maher (Nagle Community College, Co. Cork); Nikita Gusarskiy (Galway Community College, Co. Galway); Ava Breheny (St. Brigid’s College Loughrea, Co. Galway); Niall Gallagher (Colaiste An Chreagain, Co. Galway); Keira Wilson (St Joseph’s High School, Co. Armagh); Ella-Grace Heaney (St.Paul’s High School, Co. Armagh.)

Focusing on the three core themes of Inspiration, Imagination and Impact, the conference offered an opportunity for second-level schools across the island to get inspired by leading climate academics and activists; collaborate and share ideas for North/South and Shared Education collaborations; and students engaged in campaigns and communications training in workshops delivered by Co-operation Ireland.

PART ONE, INSPIRATION | Keynote Speeches & Panel

The conference began with a series of keynote speeches, featuring Professor John Barry (Professor of Green Political Economy, Queen’s University Belfast), Rosalind Skillen (Columnist for the Belfast Telegraph and Delegate of COP26 and COP27) and Jacinta Hamley (Founder and Director of Climate Craic.)

This session was hosted by Niamh Small, a PhD student in Anthropology in the school of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s University Belfast. Following the keynote speeches, environmental broadcaster and presenter of RTÉ’s EcoEye series, Duncan Stewart, joined the keynote speakers for a panel session.

PART TWO, IMAGINATION | Cross-Border Project Marketplace

The ‘marketplace’ concept is a hallmark of Co-operation Ireland Youth & Education programmes the session involves students pitching potential social action projects and exploring collaboration with cross-border partner schools.

As part of the AIS4CA programme, Co-operation Ireland created North/South clusters, which combined existing Shared Education partnerships in Northern Ireland, with counterpart schools from the Republic of Ireland. Schools can collaborate on a North/South basis in a number of ways; schools can share social action campaign methodologies and plans, align campaign delivery days and share campaign resources.

PART THREE, IMPACT | Campaigns, Peacebuilding and Communication Workshops

Co-operation Ireland hosted a series of workshops focusing on campaign planning, communications and peacebuilding. Students were encouraged to connect and collaborate with peers from across the island.

Co-founders of the AIS4CA programme and lead conference organisers, Andrew McAnallen and Morgan O’Toole, said,

We’re incredibly proud that the All-island Schools 4 Climate Action programme has offered schools across the island an opportunity to connect, share ideas and take collective action to tackle the climate emergency.  We’re connecting schools on a North/South basis, whilst also breaking down barriers in Northern Ireland through enhancing Shared Education partnerships.  There’s a strong appetite with schools to network and engage across the island and our team at Co-operation Ireland will be focused on expanding the amount of schools involved in the year ahead.

Andrew McAnallen MCIPR and Morgan O’Toole, AIS4CA co-founders and organisers

Environmental broadcaster and host of the RTÉ EcoEye Series, Duncan Stewart, is a member of the AIS4CA Management Committee, said

“It’s critical that the climate crisis is addressed urgently. Education is our most powerful way to achieve change. I’m delighted to be part of this important programme, which is equipping students to be agents of change in shaping a more sustainable society, through environmental education and social action training.”

Duncan Stewart

All-island Schools 4 Climate Action (AIS4CA) is an ambitious cross-border educational collaboration between Co-operation Ireland, EcoEd4All, and Alison, supported by the Education Authority for Northern Ireland Shared Education (EANI), Galway Roscommon ETB (GRETB) and Cork (ETB).

Left to Right: Duncan Stewart (EcoEd4All and RTÉ Broadcaster), Mike Feerick (CEO, Alison), Rosalind Skillen (MSc Environmental Policy student, University College Dublin, and Columnist at Belfast Telegraph), Peter Sheridan (CEO, Co-operation Ireland) and Niamh Small (PhD Student, Queen’s University Belfast.)
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