An Taisce's Climate Ambassador programme is Ireland’s first ever initiative to train and support individuals taking action on climate change. The programme is co-ordinated by the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce with support from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

The programme runs for the full calendar year and during that time we provide lots of opportunities to meet our Climate Action Officers, who give full support and are always at the other end of an email, social media message, or phone call, ready to help in any way possible. Now in its third year of operation, the programme has grown year on year, with 166 Climate Ambassadors trained in 2020, and a total of over 400 trained over the three years.

In their initial year, the Climate Ambassadors receive a full day of training, which covers the causes and effects of climate change as well as the solutions. This training day also covers Communications and Climate Action Planning. These events take place each year in January and early February, in locations in Dublin, Cork and Galway. An exciting and fun day is always experienced, with many new friends being made and new plans beginning to form. At the end of the initial training day, the Climate Ambassadors are presented with a branded metal pin badge and an FSC certified wooden USB, full of useful materials to assist in carrying out climate actions and communications.

We also organise ongoing training events as well as tours and workshops at our Network Gatherings. The Network Gatherings are held throughout the year and around the country, giving local Climate Ambassadors opportunities to meet with us face to face, and to meet their fellow local Climate Ambassadors. At these events they receive a sustainably and ethically sourced, branded t-shirt.

Since the start, we have run an annual #ClimateActionWeek campaign, the first of its kind in the country. This gives the opportunity for focused efforts across the country at the same time. It takes place in the second half of each year, with October 19th – 25th scheduled for this year.

Climate Ambassadors come from a wide variety of backgrounds. We accept applicants from secondary and third level education, as well as adults over the age of eighteen. We ask that Climate Ambassadors carry out at least two climate actions and two climate communications within their community, school or campus in their first year.

At many of our Network Gatherings, we enjoy talks and workshops from our Climate Ambassadors, sharing their passions and areas of interest. This not only offers a wide level of interesting and relevant topics covered but also helps to build relationships within our network.

As climate change is so interconnected, we encourage efforts in any relevant area. We have found that often novel approaches can be a very effective way of engaging with others who wouldn’t normally have the environment or climate change on their ‘radar’. To that end, we encourage not only efforts in areas that the Climate Ambassadors are already comfortable with, but also to try new things – and by going outside of their comfort zone, real growth often occurs. This can enhance their sense of meaning both from the programme and with life in general. Overcoming fears and conquering new challenges are what we strive for in ourselves – to lead by doing and to do so in an engaging, fun, non-preachy manner. We have plenty of the science covered in the training and in the resources provided to them, but that is not the full picture.

A more holistic, inclusive, compassionate approach is what we strive for, where we democratise the information, breaking down barriers of jargon. We endeavour to always show local examples and, having covered the causes and effects, to focus on solutions. We build confidence within our network by being inclusive and flexible, and with what we hope are worthwhile, meaningful and fun interactions.

During the current Covid-19 pandemic, with the restrictions on movement and gatherings, and having never heard of Zoom two months ago, we will run an increased number of Zoom calls with the Climate Ambassadors. On each call, ourselves, Climate Ambassadors and guest speakers deliver presentations on such topics as: Climate Well-being; Climate Conversations; Social Media Content; Wind Energy; MET Eireann & Environmental Jobs, and Permaculture, GIY & Community Gardening and a secondary students specific call. Sometimes we host chats in breakout rooms and we always have plenty of time at the end for Q&As. These calls have worked well as an alternative to our Network Gatherings, keeping momentum within the group and a continuation of sharing of ideas and inspiration, while also maintaining connection and solidarity.

At the end of their first year, the Climate Ambassadors are asked to compile an activity report about what they have been doing during their time as a Climate Ambassador. All participants that complete the initial year with us receive certificates for their work and are invited to a prestigious ceremony in November of each year. Around 10 Climate Ambassadors are also presented with an Outstanding Achievement Award at this ceremony. The award trophies are made from locally sourced, sustainable forests and created by the Green Campus students in Letterfrack IT. The award ceremony is a great way to celebrate and recognise all the work completed throughout the year. The award ceremonies, as per every single event we have ever ran, are as close to zero waste as possible and have always been catered with vegan and vegetarian options only. This is in our own small way, walking the talk and helping to normalise some of the solutions we need to collectively take.

Climate Ambassadors are invited to continue with us after their initial year, to further widen and strengthen the network, with many of them continuing to participate with us, enabling many of them to meet and connect with like-minded people they may never have had the opportunity to do so with otherwise.

by Gary Tyrell, An Taisce Employee, Climate Action Officer, Environmental Education Unit