Voice of Youth: Don't be afraid to think!

Sustainable Development Goal 13: Climate Action

A senior coordinator of VuzEcoFest inter-university festival in Belarus, a founder of “Youth for Sustainable Development” initiative and a PR manager in TeRRIFICA Belarus-all of these roles are covered by one 25-year old activist, Iryna Ponedelnik.

“I didn’t get into sustainable development right away”, Ira, short for Iryna, recalls. When she was studying for her Bachelor’s degree, her scientific interest was in the conservation of marine ecosystems in the context of international legal mechanisms where she did most of her research on the Sea of Japan. Then while studying International Trade Law one of Iryna’s first papers was on the topic of sustainable development. At that same time, she delved into the study of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While it has been two years since then, Ira has achieved a lot: organized two VuzEcoFest festivals in Belarus (with the third one to be confirmed) and Climathon 2019, managed negotiations with private businesses in order to include them in climate change projects, arranged workshops and forums to promote SDGs within her community, held the first Youth Conference on climate change in Belarus, and was directly involved in the implementation of UNICEF’s “World’s Largest Lesson”, that raises school students’ awareness of Global Goals 2030.

This list of achievements also includes Iryna being awarded the “Green Ticket” providing funding to attend the UN Youth Climate Summit in 2019 and met activists from all over the world, with whom she still keeps in contact. At the Summit attendees shared their initiatives and ideas on reducing CO2 emissions. Ira got to hear Greta Thunberg’s speech in person. “I support her in raising awareness over the climate change issue”, says the activist. However, Iryna is impressed with an activist Malala Yousafzai even more.  

According to the latest UN report humanity has less than 12 years to prevent irreversible damage caused by climate change. There are many steps that each of us can take to combat this issue. Ira, for instance, always carries around her personal eco-friendly bag and drinking bottle. “I try to drink coffee indoors only whilst I can use ordinary coffee mugs”, Ira says. “I don’t want to take anything plastic in my hands knowing how much damage it can cause to nature”.   

There are no separate waste collection containers near Iryna's house, but the activist still sorts the garbage into separate bags and takes it out to a shared container. This way it will be easier to distribute garbage for recycling at the sorting point. At her workplace there is a “green” container, where Ira tosses used paper for recycling. “I try to educate my colleagues about the problems that can be encountered on a daily basis”, Ira tells. “I try to make sure they don't drink coffee out of a plastic cup. Unfortunately, not everyone listens”. 

Iryna is neither a vegan nor a vegetarian. “Sometimes I eat meat, I don't see anything wrong about it. If you give up meat for a couple of days, your carbon footprint is certainly going to decrease”. Ira tracks her carbon footprint regularly: flying a plane, buying a new pair of jeans-all of these decisions cause huge emissions into the atmosphere. The activist can be quite busy everyday as she has to travel to several spots around the city. It might seem like the most convenient way is to grab a taxi, but Iryna chooses public transportation instead. Moreover she can’t wait for bicycle-sharing system to be re-launched. Ira becomes a bit irritated when speaking about fast fashion mentioning her friends who buy something new every week. As for her, the activist buys good quality clothes so they can be worn longer. “These days I try to purchase linen clothing from local manufacturers, thus supporting Goal 8 as well”.   

Belarus will introduce a ban on the use and sale of disposable plastic tableware in public catering facilities starting from January 1, 2021. Ira speaks with gratitude about these changes. The activist also believes that the idea of recycling vending machines is relevant for our country. “It is when you put a plastic bottle in a special machine and get a discount coupon for it”, Ira explains.

To tackle climate change, the activist suggests everyone to start with:

  • Refusing single-used plastic (instead purchase personal eco-bags and reusable drinking bottles)
  • Recycling
  • Joining climate change initiatives and projects 

“Don't be afraid to think of new ideas. Let's look for a solution to combat climate change together”, says Iryna. “It should be -20 oC now (the interview was conducted in early March), and snow all around, but it is raining outside. We are where we are. It is important to ask for information and stay aware of the general situation in the country. There is very little time left to achieve all the Goals-10 years”, sighs Ira. “However, as I mentioned somewhere before, there is always hope. Just keep working”.

Prepared by Darya Suprunovich, UNICEF Belarus intern