We spoke with Caoimhe O’Carroll to get her thoughts and views on The COP26 conference as it draws to a close.

Climate Change and the various issues raised were discussed and we felt it important to get a view from the students of today.

Caoimhe is the USI Vice President for the Dublin Region and has been at COP26

Christine O’Mahony spoke with her today 11th November 2021.

Events started on 31 st October and are expected to and end tomorrow, 12 th  November.
Politicians and leaders from across the world travelled to attend. The USI was fortunate to get
an invitation to COP26 from the Department of the Environment, Climate and
Communications.

O’Carroll told Meath Live that this was her “first-ever International Climate Conference and I
had a fantastic experience”. “It was definitely very eye-opening and the energy in the room
was super electric, it would certainly spur you on to pursue that kind of thing in the future
because you really can’t replicate this in any other context I think”.

 

“My initial Impressions were that I arrived and it was super busy, everyone go, go, go. It
seemed like everyone had a mission and was super progressive, and they were pushing
towards a common cause. But then as the week progressed and when I got more settled into
it. I felt that maybe it wasn’t that representative as I would have liked to have seen. And also,
the ‘passing the mic’ was a little bit smoke and mirrors, which is always a shame. Who has
the voice at the table? But also, who should be speaking and who are the people that are most
affected?”.

 

We asked O’Carroll ‘what can we do generally to combat climate change?’, O’Carroll
replied: “before I went over to COP26, my initial thoughts would always have been:
individual responsibility, understanding recycling and how you should separate your waste,
being mindful of the single-use products and all that kind of stuff. But because of COP26, I
have become more and more conscious of the fact that the powers in the hands are very few.

While it is very important to continue on a sustainability journey personally, we need to get
out on the street protesting, emailing our TDs, lobbying different groups, joining coalitions
like the COP26 coalition, or even community gardens. Those kinds of initiatives typically
carry the same kind of people, who have the same kind of thinking, which is super important.

What young people can do is look to the bigger picture because that is what’s going to solve
this. Politicians always refer to ‘this will affect the youth and we need to do this for the
young’, but they need a constant reminder, if they don’t see it in their inbox, then it is not a
priority for them in government for the next 4-year term”.

Following this, we asked O’Carroll what can Student Unions do to help reduce emissions.
O’Carroll is an alumnus at DCU, who brought forward a “No Beef Motion” to the class rep
council, which was actually passed this October. O’Carroll said the purpose of her motion
was “to prevent mindless consumption of things that have very high carbon emissions”. “We
have a culture here in Ireland that we eat meat because we always eat meat. But if it was just
suddenly not available, they might try something else and that will be their staple”. “From my
perspective, I’m not a vegan, I’m not a vegetarian, I’m not an all-organic eater or anything
like that, but I definitely make conscious decisions daily”.

 

 

“Student Unions can pass motions, or even facilitate discourse or debate in class rep council
or the Senate about climate issues, whether that’s divestment or boycotting or something
along those lines. They should make sure that class reps feel like they can contribute to that
conversation. Student Unions need to make sure that there is a forum for that and open

dialogue and that nobody is going to be shamed or shut down. Student Unions need to be
aware of the broader context of what is going on”.

“Some of the conversations that I have had at COP26 with student unions there, was that they
were spending a lot of time with their university staff on sustainability policies, but how
effective were they in comparison to say encouraging the entire university to divest from a
the certain conglomerate that contributes to a load of carbon emissions. A lot more effective. So
it is that prioritisation”, stated O’Carroll.

We asked O’Carroll what were the big topics covered at COP26, as there are multiple
conferences that individuals can attend. “There were a couple of things there that I would have
gone to. The first thing that comes to mind was ‘gender inequality and climate change’. I was
super struck by it, it never really dawned on me that as a feminist, that women are the first
people to take a hit from a societal perspective, whether that be in education, in our own
family lives and home lives”.

“Climate Finance’ was another topic, I found that quite inaccessible, it was difficult to
understand, just because there was so much jargon associated with it but it is really, really
key and central to the conversation”.

“One other one was the role of the media in setting the narrative around climate change’. We
have seen a big rise in coverage of COP26 this year and how it is being portrayed. Before it
would have been that kind of sense of grassroots movement getting together discussing the
world of climate, but this year it was pretty much ‘this is official business and if we don’t
take action, we won’t have what we have now in 20 years’ time’. there was a good few press
conferences with Sky News, Channel 4 News, and the BBC”, O’Carroll replied.

Lastly, we asked O’Carroll what she thought of the initiatives that have been already
introduced to combat climate change here in Ireland. “From an Irish Government perspective
and with reference to a carbon tax, I understand the sentiment behind it, I agree with the
premise and reducing fossil fuels generally. However, I disagree with the idea that everybody
has the capacity to retrofit their home, to insulate, not to drive a car, especially for people living
in rural Ireland, the expectation that they can simply take public transport is disillusioned in
my opinion. It does result in taxing the people that can’t afford the tax in the first place, unfortunately”.

“I heard the Green Party speaking about a minimum flight price in Ireland if this is true and
if it is implemented, again it’s taxing that family that only go on one holiday every four years
rather than taxing the people that go on holidays every school midterm. I don’t know if it is
the best way to go about it”.

 

 

Penneys,the clothes retailer now has a sustainable fashion line (clothes made out of recyclable
goods), we asked O’Carroll her opinion on this. “H&M also have a sustainable fashion line
now, in my opinion, this is ‘Greenwashing’. It’s contradictory and hypocrisy at its finest, to
have one aisle full of ‘sustainable clothing’ and then to have across the other side of the aisle,
100s and 1000s of garments that are made in unsustainable working conditions, that are
unsustainably made, and ultimately when that trend goes, they go straight to landfill. Also,
none of their products are like long term, they don’t expect to last”.

On the issue of public transport, we asked what O’Carroll thought about most trains and darts
not being implemented until 2031 or 2042. “The announcement from the NTA, coming at the
same time at COP26 is so telling. The government is committing to what is deemed as the
‘most progressive climate action plan ever before the State’, the week after they are rolling
back all the funds to any kind of good transport. This is a really poor reflection on the Irish
government. We welcomed the 50% discount to students, that is important to mention and
that is a good step in encouraging young people to use public transport more often, but it is
contradictory to then roll that back. It points towards their current priorities”, concluded
O’Carroll.