Emer Rafferty

Roles at NAAEE:

30 Under 30

Youth Environmental Leader
One Step Greener COP26 / Translink Changemaker

Emer passionately advocates climate action and EE learning at all levels of society, connecting young people with nature, the climate, and biodiversity through education.

How are you using education to build more sustainable and equitable communities? 

Education is key in this crisis. An uneducated generation is an unaware generation, and so I believe that by creating greater learning opportunities about nature, our planet, and climate change, we can create a growing wave of conscious green thinkers. I am part of a Northern Ireland campaign for schools in which we aim for more time spent learning in and about nature. Having spoken to the head of education in Northern Ireland about our campaign, we have big plans ahead for our young peoples’ learning experiences. I am also working alongside the Department of Education to help create a strategy for climate change, to gather young people’s thoughts on the climate crisis.

My work with my local schools promotes environmental learning, including giving students chances to plant vegetables and wild flowers and erect bird boxes. I also presented at the UK Climate Summit to schools across the UK and overseas, allowing me to emphasise the importance of the natural world to schools with the hope that it may spark them to do more. 

All it takes is one learning lesson, one conversation or one outdoor opportunity to stick in a student’s mind. From this can come the gratitude for our planet, which will lead to respect for it.

Tell us about your journey to where you are today. 

My journey began after watching documentaries, reading books, and listening to others more knowledgeable than myself. I found it hard to grasp how we let the thing we rely on the most slip between our fingers. As climate change does not discriminate on beliefs, age, race, or paycheque, we all are affected in the end, so I was determined to make this my priority. The explosion of virtual meetings during the pandemic connected me to like-minded people from across the globe. My journey so far has been invigorating but also challenging. As I am actively trying to be more involved, I face barriers along the way but will not let these turn me off from my mission. Removing barriers can show others, particularly youth, not to be afraid to have a passion for the world they live in. Positivity and passion are infectious.

Both local and global heroes have sparked my interest in taking action. Changing people’s attitudes is a difficult task; however, my approach is to promote the beauty of the world we have around us. I have a long way to go in my journey, but with positive and ambitious people around me, I have nothing to fear! Will you be one of those people?

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders?

Be fierce. Be courageous. Be passionate! You’re a leader for a reason—be yourself! Make peace between people, planet, and the past so that we can look forward to a connected future.

If you were to choose one place to live for the rest of your life, where would it be? 

My home in Ballymacnab, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, surrounded by friends, family, fields, streams, and greens. 

What are you happiest doing?

I’m the happiest when:

  1. I’m succeeding 
  2. I’m giving others opportunities I was given
  3. I’m laughing
  4. I’m learning