From the 5th to the 7th of July 2023, the Mary Robinson Climate Conference took place in Ballina, Co Mayo. Focusing on the theme "Communities Creating Change", this open multidisciplinary forum aimed to bring together voices from all spheres of academia and society to explore sustainable futures and exchange experiences regarding the environment. As part of the event, a one-off workshop called "Envisaging pathways for our rural and coastal communities" was held by Deirdre Carolan, PhD and Researcher in Climate Justice at TASC, Mariana Cerca, PhD Candidate in Biosystems and Food Engineering, and Kieran Harrahill, Senior Researcher in Climate Justice at TASC. The workshop opened with an introduction to The People's Transition project, led by TASC, and how it aims to create a virtuous cycle of local climate action by working with communities across Ireland to enable place-based, community-led just transitions. Following this, an overview of the benefits of developing the seaweed supply chain and an overview of socially responsible cultivation systems for coastal communities were presented.
The workshop consisted of 16 participants and focused on answering three questions. The first question was: "What does an unjust transition look like for rural and coastal communities?" One prevalent concern was the lack of community support, as individuals felt isolated and unsupported in their efforts towards sustainability. They also highlighted the insufficient funding for climate action groups and the limited knowledge of sustainable practices, particularly regarding seaweed cultivation, which hindered community efforts towards environmentally friendly solutions. Participants expressed frustration over their lack of involvement and voice in decision-making processes and how failings in previous engagement processes have led to consultation fatigue. The participants also voiced opposition to certain climate measures, citing the controversy surrounding the ban on bog cutting. Population increases in certain communities and the failure to address resources shortages, notably in housing, alongside existing inequalities and worsening environmental catastrophes, such as flooding in coastal areas, were also emphasised. The use of turf was noted for its polluting effects, contributing to environmental degradation and community health concerns. While new job opportunities were anticipated, participants expressed frustration over the absence of upskilling opportunities as well as the lack of public transportation infrastructure which isolated communities and restrict their access to those opportunities. The migration of young people to urban centres was identified as a consequence of these unfavourable conditions and a lack of opportunities within communities. Lastly, the absence of a sharing economy model perpetuated a lack of economic benefits for communities, further exacerbating existing disparities.
When asked, "What does a just transition look like for rural and coastal communities?" participants highlighted several themes. These included the importance of providing resources and support, such as income, grants, incentives, and training, to enable keepers of nature, especially farmers, to embrace sustainable practices. Employment and income continuity and tailored retirement schemes for farmers due to their unique circumstances were identified as vital for community well-being. Participants in the workshop highlighted the importance of nature protection, including raising awareness about bog restoration and preserving natural habitats. The need for equity was highlighted, with a focus on equal waste supply and prices for both urban and rural areas. Workshop attendees also stressed the significance of recreational activities and improved inclusion for refugees to promote community cohesion. Increasing resources for councils was seen as necessary to support communities during the transition effectively. Amplifying community voices and prioritising farmers' opinions in decision-making processes were also noted. Lastly, the establishment of energy co-ops was viewed as a means to foster community ownership and participation in the transition to renewable energy sources, ensuring a just and inclusive pathway forward.
Actions needed for a just transition
As for the last question of the workshop, "What can communities and decision-makers do to secure a just transition for rural and coastal communities?", the participants discussed and suggested various actions. Grassroots-based, community-led projects were highlighted as essential. Participants highlighted the need for ongoing funding and support from the EU to sustain community efforts. Local place-based research was seen as necessary for informing decision-making and creating tailored approaches. The establishment of climate action groups within communities was proposed to drive local efforts. Funding allocation was considered dependent on the specific location and scale of projects. Achieving equity in water supply and prices between urban and rural areas was also referenced. Transitioning fossil fuel supports to benefit communities and exploring clean energy options for households were advocated. Participants emphasised the importance of translating academic research into actionable policies and sharing it with the community. The implementation of citizen assemblies and community groups for decision-making, specifically concerning wind farms and local planning, was suggested. Lastly, proper facilitation and implementation processes were considered vital for ensuring a just transition.
This workshop provided valuable insights into visions of unjust and just transitions from a community perspective. The participants expressed their concerns regarding the lack of community support, involvement, and funding, the limited knowledge of sustainable practices, and the challenges encountered because of environmental catastrophes and inequalities. Conversely, a just transition was envisioned as one that prioritises resources and support for farmers, promotes nature protection, ensures equity in resource distribution, and fosters community inclusion and cohesion. For this, suggested actions included grassroots-based projects, ongoing funding, local research, climate action groups, and equitable water supply. Implementing these actions, along with proper facilitation and decision-making processes, can pave the way for a just transition for rural and coastal communities, fostering sustainability, equality, and community empowerment.
My name is Emmie Voet, I am 22 years old. I am a Master’s student studying Sustainable Development and Foreign Languages; my programme is taught in French, English and Italian and focuses on the communication and project management side of sustainability. After one semester in France and another in Finland, I am now interning at TASC in the Climate Justice department, under the supervision of the Senior Researcher Kieran Harrahill, and working on The People’s Transition project.