‘We must treat the Earth like a member of the family or a friend’

Young People’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss calls for greater respect for the rights of nature

Ireland’s Children and Young People’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss has called for greater respect for the rights of nature to be at the centre of Government decision-making.

Its final report issued on Saturday to coincide with Earth Day also calls for young people to be included in how Ireland responds to biodiversity loss, backed by stronger democratic standing for them and recognition of children’s rights.

The assembly met over two weekends in October 2022 at Glencree, Co Wicklow, and Killarney National Park, Co Kerry, seeking to ensure Ireland’s youngest citizens have their say in how Ireland responds to the challenge of biodiversity loss.

More than 500 people aged 7-17 applied to be part of the assembly, of which 35 were selected representing a diverse cross-section of society. Their report charts the journey participants went on over the course of their work together.


They produced six key messages and 58 calls to action. Their recommendations, include a vision of the future they would like to see: “An Ireland where we are connected to and care for the rights of nature (and each other) so that biodiversity is restored and protected and we live and grow up in healthy, clean and fair environments.”

Young voices

Assembly member Fiadh (7), from Co Cork, said: “The Earth is what we are living on, if we do something bad, that’s what we will be living with, and if we do something good, that’s what we will be living with. So we should take very good care of the Earth so we will be living with the good results.”

Asked what was the most important call to action, he said: “Restore and reintroduce native species including trees, plants, flowers and predators (eg wolves). It feels better to see more different types of species of plants and animals everywhere. It is better for the bees to have more flowers, and more trees for squirrels to nest in.”

Zion (9), from Galway, said he enjoyed making new friends and making good decisions for the environment. “The call to action most important to me is: ‘We must treat the Earth like a member of the family or a friend’ because we wouldn’t treat family or friends as badly as we are treating the Earth.”

Oisín (13), from Co Galway, said: “My key message to everyone in Ireland is to play your part. I hope that everyone will take inspiration from our calls to action and contribute to combating this crisis.”

The report has been submitted to Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan and will be considered by a joint Oireachtas committee. It captures young people’s passion and creativity, “and provides a clarion call to action for the Government on how to restore our natural world”, he said.

He is to meet with assembly members once the new National Biodiversity Action Plan is completed to discuss with them how their calls to action are reflected in the plan.

Mr Noonan added: “When the Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss was established last year, I felt it was vitally important that our younger citizens under the age of 18 would also be able to have their say.”

He said he would be exploring how to create a mechanism to give young people a voice in decisions on biodiversity policy.

Key messages

Their report follows on from the recent publication of the final report of the Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss which adopted the recommendation that: “The State is urged to take into account the recommendations from the Children and Young People’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss, an initiative featuring our next generation, and continue to engage with children and young people on the environment.”

“Often children and young people’s voices aren’t included in the political process. With this new method of including our voices, I really feel we have progressed as a country,” said Anabel (17), a member of the young advisory team which facilitated the assembly’s activities.

Her colleague Niamh (16), from Co Waterford, added: “My message to children and young people everywhere would be that your voice matters. It matters just as much as anyone else’s, and what you have to say is so important. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you think is right. The change starts with each of us, in each of us. It starts from a place of empathy and righteousness.”

Other key messages included:

– Future generations must live in a world where there isn’t a biodiversity crisis and where children don’t have to take action because of the incapability of past generations.

– Biodiversity protection must be a shared responsibility and a global, collaborative effort.

– We must consume resources in a sustainable, moderate way that neither diminishes the environment/biodiversity or our rights, wellbeing and livelihoods.

Calls to action ranged across education; governance, energy, transport, waste and consumption, restoring and rewilding nature, habitat and species protection and addressing overexploitation.

The Assembly’s structure was designed by an intergenerational team consisting of the young advisory team and an independent research consortium included experts in children’s participation, deliberative democracy, and biodiversity from Dublin City University; University College Cork, and terre des hommes, an international organisation focusing on children’s environmental rights.

Its legacy is being developed through a follow-on project called Teaching Resources for Youth-informed Biodiversity Education led by UCC, which addresses some of the Assembly’s calls to action around education and raising awareness.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times