From COP26 to the UN, Ireland’s Alicia O’Sullivan reflects on climate advocacy

Date: 19 November 2023

Alicia O’Sullivan brings a wealth of experience and insight from her engagements with global leaders on climate change advocacy. This September, she served as a United Nations Youth Delegate for Ireland, having previously represented her country at the inaugural UN youth climate summit in New York, USA, in 2019 and the COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, two years ago. With COP28 on the horizon in Dubai, where 16 delegates will represent the YMCA, Alicia shares her experiences from the UN.


By Alicia O’Sullivan

I am Alicia Joy O’Sullivan, a 22-year-old woman from the rural beauty of Skibbereen in West Cork, Ireland. Currently, I am in the final year of my law degree program at University College Cork, and I had the privilege of representing Ireland as one of its United Nations Youth Delegates.

My journey as an advocate began at the tender age of 15 when I engaged with groups such as Comhairle Na nOg (a representative group of young people) as a member of their National Executive. Moreover, I was elected as the Education Officer for the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union. Social justice has always held a special place in my heart, and my voyage began as a member of YMCA Cork at age 15, where I was first introduced to the Sustainable Development Goals and the pressing issue of climate change.

Through various workshops and digital media training, I honed my communication, digital, and advocacy skills. In 2021, I had the honour of being part of the World YMCA’s delegation to COP26, where my colleagues and I tirelessly advocated for increased youth participation and support, especially for those hailing from the Global South and Indigenous communities.

The UN Youth Delegate Programme is an invaluable opportunity for young voices to be heard on the international stage. The UN, with its complex system, often excludes young people, and even when they are included, it can be a challenging task to actively participate without proper training.

That’s why the UNYD programme is vital; it provides an established and recognized avenue for youth to contribute meaningfully at the UN. However, it’s crucial to note that not every country has a UNYD programme, and it is disproportionately represented by white, privileged young individuals, while it lacks representation from people of colour, those from economically disadvantaged areas, those with disabilities, and individuals from the Global South. This disparity is something that desperately needs to change.


Above: Alicia had the chance to spend time with UN Youth Delegates from East Africa. From left to right: Mohammed Naeem (Ireland UNYD); Kalema Arnold (Uganda UNYD); Khadija Ismail (Tanzania UNYD); Jodahi Petros (Ethiopa UNYD); Diana Kaburu (Kenya UNYD); Alicia O Sullivan (Ireland UNYD); Fatima Medani (Sudan UNYD)

How can we, as young people, address the most significant threat to humanity—climate change—without the active involvement of those most affected?

Upon our arrival at JFK on 15 September, my fellow delegates and I wasted no time. We promptly collected our badges and made introductions at the Permanent Mission of Ireland, where we had the privilege of meeting Ambassador Fergal Mythen. Our arrival coincided with the SDG weekend, followed by High-Level Week. This pivotal week kickstarts the UN’s year as Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Heads of State convene in New York City to present their plans and accomplishments to the UN.

Mohammad Naeem and Alicia Joy O’Sullivan were Ireland’s UN Youth Delegates.

Our agenda included meetings with Irish political leaders, including the Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister), Minister for the Environment, and Minister for Health. During these meetings, we tirelessly advocated various pressing issues, such as housing, mental health services, and climate change mitigation.

Our time in New York was marked by attendance at numerous conferences, meetings, and events. One that left a lasting impact on me was a discussion on women and girls’ education in Afghanistan. Hearing about the disparities and the challenges young girls face, as they had to hide their faces in video testimonies, was truly eye-opening.

I had the honour of making a statement on behalf of Ireland in the Third Committee, focusing on climate financing for the Global South and urging the Global North to take responsibility for their actions.

As I look ahead to the year in my role, my primary goal is to collaborate with as many young people as possible, advocating and lobbying on the most significant issues affecting the youth of Ireland, and standing as a staunch ally to those who are underrepresented.