Senior Branchers address UN President about climate change and SDGs

Irish Girl Guides (IGG) was represented at a United Nations Youth Delegate event in Farmleigh House on Saturday 30 November by Senior Branch members Teagan Stanley and Patricia Gutteridge from Tralee and Mary O’Connell and Emma Lawlor from Dunshaughlin.

Also in attendance were the President of the UN General Assembly, Mr Tijjani Muhammad-Band, and many young climate activists from around the country. Teagan and Patricia were invited to speak about their experience at Sangam World Centre in Pune, India, this summer and the work that IGG members are doing to combat climate change.

It was an “absolutely amazing experience”, says Teagan, a member of Dílse Senior Branch, Galway. “It was incredible to be able to speak in front of, and to, the President of the UN.  The group of people there had so many amazing points and ideas and it was brilliant to be able to discuss climate change, the Sustainable Development Goals and global development with such intelligent and open-minded people.

“The work of IGG is just one of many steps communities are making to develop into a better, stronger and more sustainable future and I am so proud to be part of something so incredible. To be able to make a difference on a personal, local and global level is an amazing achievement for IGG and something that we can hope to continue to do into the future. The recognition that IGG is from Ireland and now the UN is a huge stepping-stone for us into building a brighter future for people and girls across Ireland and hopefully the world.”

This is the text of the speech Teagan and Patricia delivered at the UN Youth Delegate event:

Good morning Mr President, delegates, ladies and gentlemen. We would firstly like to thank Valery and Jack for this opportunity and inviting us here today.  We are here to represent Irish Girl Guides and to share the efforts the organisation is making to be more sustainable and to help the people of Ireland be more sustainable. We are aware that the Irish government and individuals are making a huge and commendable effort, but we believe there is a lot more that can be done.

In Irish Girl Guides we are working towards reaching the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Tackling it goal by goal, badge by badge.

So far we have developed and launched our programme for SDG13 Climate Action, which we made available to all branches in spring of 2019.  Our aim for this programme is to introduce the SDG13 badge to Ladybirds, Brownies, Guides and Senior Branch units across Ireland and to show how we can help to achieve this goal.  And to show the importance of caring for the environment and how we affect it from a local and individual level.

We have developed different programmes and activities for each of the age branches in Irish Girl Guides, such as Daisy’s story for Ladybirds where the girls learn to appreciate the necessity of caring for the environment as well as connecting with people and their lives from across the world.  Brownies discover what they can take with them in a climate emergency evacuation.  The Guides’ walking debate allows girls to take on the roles of people all around the world and experience through role play how climate change affects everyone differently. The Senior Branchers work together to develop ideas of how they, as a group and as individuals, can help with climate action which allows and encourages the young women of our society to take a stand and make a difference.

Our programmes are widening girls’ perspectives on the Sustainable Development Goals and how that every small thing that we do has an impact on climate change and even the small individual changes that we make can make a huge change to climate action.

Irish Girl Guides is working towards becoming a total sustainable organisation. At the beginning of this year members of Irish Girl Guides went through all of the programme in an effort to remove any need for single-use plastic in activities, crafts or games.

In addition to this, Irish Girl Guides are making a huge effort to make all camps, pack holidays and events more environmentally friendly. Organisers of events are more aware of what they are buying and where they are buying from, buying local and plastic-free wherever possible. For events and ceremonies, plastic cutlery and plates are being replaced with paper or being avoided altogether.  Girls are encouraged to bring reusable water bottles to meetings and events and single-use plastic bottles are not permitted for camps.

In August 2019 a group of 50 Irish Senior Branchers and Leaders travelled to Sangam World Centre in India.  We went as part of a leadership programme running community action programmes while we were over there, but we also went to observe India in relation to SDG12 Responsible Consumption and Production.

There were so many things that we observed in India that showed responsible consumerism.  The main thing that everyone noticed is that when people are shopping there are no plastic bags or generally bags at all handed out at all, everyone had their own reusable bags for everything to their clothes shopping to their produce. When we ate out one night there was no plastic cutlery given with our meals, they were all wooden.  Places in India didn’t have recycling and general waste bins, almost everything was recyclable or compostable. Any food that was not eaten was not thrown away but was either put into the compost bins or eaten at a different meal. The amount of single-use plastics that we used in India was minimal.  Instead of plastic or paper plates, plates were made out of banana leaves, which could then just be composted. These are things that we feel that Ireland should, and very well can, bring into our own economy.  If people in other places in the world can reduce their single-use plastic usage, then we in Ireland, as a very privileged country, should have no excuse to not also be doing this.

Coming back from India, we have learned and observed so much and we wanted to put this to good use by developing a national programme for IGG to help people in the organisation and in our wider communities to make that change, to reduce our single-use plastic usage and to become responsible consumers.

The girls who returned from India are now working on developing IGG’s programme for SDG12 Responsible Consumption and Production.  We aim to get girls of all ages to be more aware of what they are buying and what they are doing with any waste and rubbish they may have. Through various activities, we aim to educate Guides on the effects of production on the environment and how we can make a difference.

Irish Girl Guides’ work on the Sustainable Development Goals can have a huge impact on how well and efficiently Ireland achieves them.  Girls are now developing a deeper understanding of what the SDGs are and what we can do to achieve them. Irish Girl Guides encourages girls to become leaders in their communities, from the youngest Ladybird encouraging her parents to be conscious about what they buy and how they use products, to the Senior Branchers leading their communities to being proactive about climate action.

We believe that we can all make a difference and that everyone working together and doing their bit, we will be able to reach all of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

You can read about Patricia’s experience of the event here.