Like her counterpart, Swedish schoolgirl activist Greta Thunberg, teenage climate crusader Holly Gillibrand is demanding more action on climate change – and she won’t be silenced.

Holly is only 14 but, like the hundreds of thousands of other children who have withdrawn themselves from school since February to protest against slow-moving environmental policy changes, she is in a fight for life on Earth.

Now the Lochaber High pupil is being recognised for her activism and will be speaking with another inspirational woman, Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, at a sold-out show at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

During the event, organised by conservation group WWF Scotland, the pair will reflect on the biggest global challenges facing people and nature today, how young people can influence change, and what it’s like to be a woman in political activist spaces.

Growing up in Lochaber, Holly was keen on the outdoors and spent time exploring the landscape, wildlife and nature that the Highlands offers.

In January, inspired by Ms Thunberg who protested outside the Swedish Parliament, Holly took her own action on climate breakdown and stood outside her school in Fort William to stage her own strike action.

Speaking to The Herald on Sunday in March, after striking for 10 weeks, she said: “I didn’t know a lot about climate change before last year, apart from that it was happening and affecting nature.

“Then I saw Greta Thunberg giving her speech in Helsinki, Finland. She said she was striking for the climate, so I looked into what she was doing and then I realised how big and serious climate change was.”

The message of her strike, supported by some of her teachers, but not her headteacher nor Highland by Council, is directed at the Scottish Government and is a call to educate people of all ages.

She said: “I feel politicians’ heads are in the wrong place at the moment. When there was a debate in Westminster following the last big strike, only eight government MPs turned up. It makes me feel very angry because this is a sad reflection of how our politicians value the very existence of life on this planet.

“Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the scariness, but the strikes keep you busy and you feel you are doing something that will hopefully make a difference. When I’m doing the strikes or something with Extinction Rebellion, I feel less worried because people are fighting for change. It’s when I’m at school and see people just going about their daily lives when there’s a crisis happening – that’s when it really strikes me.

“Some people’s perceptions on climate change are mindboggling. Some people even seem to think it is a good thing. I’d like to see more climate change education in school. We’ve been taught absolutely nothing.”

Because of her activism, Holly was invited to join Ms Thunberg as she took part in round-table discussions with party leaders in London during the Extinction Rebellion protests in March.

At the time, the Scot expressed her disappointment that then-prime minister Theresa May didn’t turn up for the talks. Now the teenage conservationist is a rewilding advocate and environmental activist who speaks at events across the UK.

Author, speaker, activist and former politician Ms Robinson will be joining Holly in conversation at the Edinburgh the event.

A passionate advocate for gender equality, peace-building, human rights, and now climate justice, Ms Robinson integrated human rights into the United Nations system during her time as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002.

As an academic, legislator and barrister, she works hard to apply the law in motivating social change and heads up the Mary Robinson Foundation Climate Justice centre – a space for education and advocacy on sustainable development in the world’s poorest communities.

She co-founded the Council of Women World Leaders, a network that mobilises women leaders at the highest levels to promote democracy and gender equality and is also chair of The Elders, an independent group of leading global figures founded by Nelson Mandela that works together for peace, justice and human rights.

The pair will meet on stage at the book festival’s Party Pavilion on Charlotte Square Gardens this Saturday at the under-25’s only event.

The event is delivered by WWF Scotland, which works tirelessly by influencing policy, providing solutions and gaining public support and involvement.

Edinburgh Book Festival is a well-established event that has run since 1983 and welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors and more than 900 events, which it hosts. 

It has stepped up its own commitment to reducing its environmental impact. By increasing its sustainability and creating a forum for discussion to bring environmental concerns and the climate change debate to a wider public, organisers hope to generate discussion on the subject. E-tickets were introduced last year while their programme is printed on 100 per cent recycled paper. 

On-site caterers use compostable packaging, plates, cups, glasses and cutlery and festival-goers are encouraged to reuse water bottles by refilling them at public water taps.

Their commitment to going greener is backed up by a programme that includes speakers and authors who champion climate breakdown awareness and change.
Scottish pastoral poet and essayist Kathleen Jamie and nature writer Robert Macfarlane are both featuring.

As well as her WWF Scotland event, Ms Robinson will be speaking about her book, Climate Justice, with Ruth Wishart as part of the festival’s The Fragile Planet series. Ms Robinson will discuss how becoming a grandmother triggered her to travel the world and fight back against the impending catastrophe of climate breakdown.