In 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their first report on climate change stating that (a) greenhouses gases cause a global warming effect; (b) our activities increase the amount of greenhouses gases in the atmosphere; and that because of (a) and (b) global warming is likely to get worse. Two years later, in 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was founded at the ‘Earth Summit’ in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro to create a space for international collaboration on climate change. The UNFCCC Treaty led to the first ever Conference of Parties (COP1), in Berlin 1995, where nations, transnational organisations and NGOs came together to discuss what was happening with the climate and to negotiate over what they were going to do next.
Fast forward to COP26 and 5 years have gone by since the Paris Agreement at COP21. It was the 5 November 2021, the world was (and still is) recovering from a global pandemic and the IPCC’s latest report set out a clear warning that we must curb our greenhouse gas emissions significantly and immediately if we want to stop global temperatures rising above 1.5°C.
I and two other UK Schools Sustainability Network (UKSSN) students (Danyaal from Yorkshire and Toma from London), after an early start and an hour spent getting through security and registration, headed into the Blue Zone where negotiations were taking place and different countries were running panels, talks and discussions. We had no idea how awesome the day would be…
It was Youth Empowerment Day so it’s no surprise that the first event we went to was a talk about youth empowerment run by WWF. Arriving late we only caught the end, but it was a nice start to the day setting it up as day of learning, empowerment, and promise.
Having some time to kill we then wondered around the Blue Zone shown around by one of our amazing chaperones Ana Romero (a UKSSN member of school staff and negotiator for the Mexican delegation). In the Action Zone people were being interviewed by companies like Sky News and people were sat about talking and attending open talks. In a zone full of security negotiations behind closed doors people were sat about typing at their computers or writing things down in their notebooks.
In another, each delegation had set up a pavilion. Qatar were there with models of the buildings they had built for their net zero world cup. We spoke to some people from Colombia about their tree planting initiatives and were given a card game about venomous snakes. The UK Presidency Pavilion was not hard to find being red and blue. We saw the pavilions of the Kingdom of Morocco, the Turkish, the Saudi Arabians, the Egyptians, the Koreans, the Indigenous peoples, the Russian Federation as well as the Water pavilion, the Science pavilion, the Nordic Pavilion and so many more.
We then had lunch with an official from the Department of International Development, one of Jess’s old friends (Jess Tipton was our UKSSN trip leader and other amazing Chaperone) who told us about how the negotiations worked and how much sleep people like the security guards weren’t getting.
The afternoon was as action packed. It started with a livestreamed panel discussion featuring Toma called ‘The Nature of Our Future: The Role of Young People in Climate Solutions with Nature’. Toma talked about the aims and reach of UKSSN, and how our schools are contributing to nature-based solutions. Other panellists included youth representatives from Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, Youth4Nature and the Scouts. The keynote speaker was none other than Bear Grylls whose speech was very long and inspiring. It was a very empowering panel, and all the panellists had lots of amazing things to say and came from some fantastic organisations.
After that panel Danyaal had the highlight of his day when we got to meet the Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi and with very little warning were suddenly on a panel next to him, Professor Ed Hawkins (from University of Reading, lead author of the IPCC report and best known for the climate heat stripes), Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta (University of Cambridge, author of ‘The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review’) and Claire Mathison CBE (Director of Engagement, National History Museum). We got to hear all about the Department for Education new Climate Leaders' Award and Nature Park scheme as well as give our own thoughts and ask questions about them. Zahawi was very friendly, and his initiatives are a great start to the government providing us with more green education.
We were then invited to attend a massive summit in a big conference room. It was the first time environmental ministers and educational ministers had sat together on a panel at a COP marking a significant shift towards green education and it was so amazing that we got to attend. We heard from environmental and educational ministers from all over the world promising to implement green education in various different ways, as well as some inspiring youth representatives that had been involved with things like the Mock COP. Some of the ministers sounded sincere and enthusiastic like the ministers from Malawi and Scotland while other minister’s plans sounded unrealistic and non-committal.
The entire experience was eye-opening and overall, incredibly positive. We got to meet so many cool people like Oluwaseyi Moejoh, a young National Geographic explorer and co-founder of the U-Recycle initiative, Nadhim Zahawi, Prof. Ed Hawkins, and the National Park employees. I hope that the rest of COP26 goes as positively as our day in the blue zone did for us.
Written by Nor (Oxford Schools Sustainability Network) with input from Danyaal (Yorkshire Schools Sustainability network) and Toma (London Schools Eco Network)
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