2015 Climate Conferences

As United Nations delegates gathered in Paris for COP21 we were pleased to run a series of model Climate Conferences for secondary school students across the South West and South East of England.

As with COP21 the stakes were high: the aim was to reach, for the first time, a universal, legally binding agreement that would enable us to combat climate change effectively and boost the transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies.

Feedback from the conferences was hugely positive - see what participants thought of our 2015 conferences in this 2 page summary.

Find out how the school students got on below and view the students in action on our photo page

Portcullis House, House of Commons, London (19 November)

A group of young people from secondary schools in London and Manchester showed the world's politicians the way forward at a dynamic meeting at the House of Commons.  

The conference, hosted by Tom Brake MP (Carshalton and Wallington), was addressed by The Rt. Hon. Amber Rudd MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

In an afternoon of tough questions and insightful discussions youngsters from 6 schools* negotiated a new 'legally-binding treaty' that was agreed to be fair enough and to go far enough to tackle emission growth – securing a new Climate agreement that will keep temperatures from rising beyond 2 degrees Celsius.

There were some significant shifts that allowed a meaningful deal to be struck.  China set out plans for serious cuts in carbon emissions by 2030 and urged others to follow saying, 'We should all aim to set as ambitious targets as possible'.   

In contrast to Canada's actual role in recent talks, 5 times being awarded the 'Colossal Fossil' award for its intransigence, the student Canadian delegation showed skills in positive negotiating, promoting a determined 'spirit of cooperation' to meet this global challenge. 

Japan was repeatedly asked about their return to coal-fired electricity as a medium-term replacement to its shattered nuclear industry.  In the end, the young people's debate about sanctions rose above finger-pointing to a shared commitment to taking action. 

Kingswood Civic Centre, South Gloucestershire (27 November)

In South Gloucestershire school students, following an opening by Cllr Erica Williams, Chair of the Council, set about intensive negotiations.  

Students representing climate vulnerable countries (Bangladesh, Kenya and Maldives) made clear from the outset the impact of industrialised nations' choices to continue using fossil fuels saying, 'If the developed world sneezes, we catch a cold'.  

Canada and Australia were put under pressure to make the changes needed to their carbon-rich economies.  They in turn offered much needed financial support to the vulnerable nations to make the changes to adapt to Climate Change.

Considerable momentum was created by USA and UK agreeing to a pledge by the Russian Federation to increase targets to a 31% reduction in emissions by 2030 if that was matched by these other nations.  This was after the initial shocking retrograde step by Russian Federation of taking down their targets.  

The afternoon culminated in a 'Yes' vote to making realistic targets part of a new legal agreement on the understanding that they are reviewed and increased if possible every 5 years to keep the world on track for a sustainable future.

Cheltenham Council Chambers, Gloucestershire (7 December)

A full Cheltenham Council Chamber saw lively exchanges and well researched arguments voiced by students from 6 local schools. Representing 15 countries the students made strong commitments to reducing their emissions.  There was a caveat from India, however, that they have one of the lowest emissions rates per head of population and to bring their population out of poverty they need to have the same opportunity to develop that industrialised nations experienced. 

Debate on whether targets had gone far enough saw least developed countries demanding more ambitious targets and stating their need for investment to help with their own carbon cutting growth. 

In her keynote speech Julie Girling, MEP South West of England, said the heart of this issue is really quite simple even if it won't be easy.  Countries must move from their economic reliance on fossil fuels.  

Under pressure to agree the legal form of a new agreement, students devised deals and reconsidered their own positions.  There was concern to bring in USA as the only country standing firm that targets should not be a legal part of the final document.  

A nuanced final deal was struck that saw Emission Trading Schemes being rolled out between key countries (Australia, China, India, South Africa) and finance being generated from a Carbon Tax to be fund much-needed renewable energy programmes. An independent international body was thought to be the best way to review countries' progress, and the 'ratchet mechanism' of increasing targets every 5 years formed a key part of the ambition of the agreement.

Reading Council Chambers, Berkshire (11 December)

On what should have been the last day of COP21, 75 students representing 15 country delegations met at Reading Council Chambers. Having presented their INDCs – Intended National Country Targets on carbon emission reduction – the delegates entered into challenging negotiations to try and arrive at a legally binding climate agreement incorporating those targets and financial contributions, which was fair, ambitious and acceptable to all parties. 

They tackled differentiation according to economic circumstances, explored options for both support and sanctions around targets, and having heard from renewable energy engineer Danny Bonnett of LICenergy UK on the exciting possibilities for energy generation and storage discussed how to support a more rapid transition to a low carbon global economy. 

The delegations ended up with a proposal for a complex treaty, with countries legally bound to the targets they had agreed. It included a ratchet mechanism to increase ambition every five years in recognition that current targets would not be enough to limit global average temperature rise to below 2 degrees C (let alone the 1.5 or closer to 1 degree rise pushed for by the Small Island Developing States represented here by The Bulmershe School team taking on the role of The Maldives). After strong debate with and within the USA team about the likelihood of ratification by Senate, the proposed treaty was agreed unanimously.

We had to wait a little longer, on tenterhooks, for the Paris negotiations to reach their conclusion the following day! And as our students were keen to point out at the Model Conference – now the real work begins. 

Thanks to the participating schools:

London: Bethnal Green Academy, Hammersmith Academy, Kew House School, Manchester High School for Girls, St Mary Magdalene Academy, St Philomena's Catholic High School for Girls 

South Gloucestershire: The Grange, The Castle School, Patchway Community College

Cheltenham: Balcarras School, Hartpury College, Pate's Grammar School, Sir Thomas Rich's School, The Cotswold School Academy

Reading: The Bulmershe School, Blessed Hugh Faringdon Catholic School, Highdown School, Reading School, Kendrick School