School Climate Conference, Bristol
Secondary students from Bristol and South Gloucestershire met to debate global climate change, and local action.
77 students from 9 schools from Bristol and South Gloucestershire gathered in the impressive Council Chambers in Bristol City Hall and filled it with informed and passionate debate about climate change and what more should be done, globally and locally.
The schools were: Ashton Park School, Bedminster Down School; Bristol Cathedral School; Bristol Grammar School; Fairfield High School; King’s Oak Academy; Redland Green School; St Bernadette Catholic Secondary School; St Mary Redcliffe & Temple School and a member of Bristol Youth Council.
Councillor Kye Dudd, Cabinet Member for Waste, Energy, Regulatory Services & Sport for Bristol City Council warmly welcomed students and gave particular mention to his former school and teacher who were participating. His opening speech stressed that the world needs action at three levels: local, national and international. Locally, Bristol City Council is putting considerable effort to doing everything it can to decarbonise including using its ‘soft power’ across the city to influence change, and addressing emissions that are brought into the city in services and products. Nationally, there needs to be policy change and international efforts are essential.
The students’ own opening statements for their countries captured the extent of the climate emergency around the world. Bangladesh voiced their fears about sea level rise and the impact on great numbers of their most vulnerable people. For China it is agriculture where the effects of drought and floods are being felt. Fiji is already contending with ocean acidification which has a great effect on their fishing and tourism industries. USA is seeing extreme weather more and more often and with devastating results, such as the wildfires in California that followed extensive drought.
There was an almost unanimous vote that all countries have to raise their ambition. However, the commitment of each country to raising their targets was at times contentious. Australia and USA were called to account for their respective policies that allowed for significant coal mining to continue, and that signalled the US’s disregard for international cooperation. China made a strong point that they are the backbone of the global economy and that a huge proportion of their emissions result from the ever growing demand for ‘things’ around the world.
As in the actual COP in Madrid, India and Brazil said that their capacity to do more comes down to more help from other countries, and international collaboration. Otherwise Brazil would rather set smaller targets that it knows it can achieve.
A delegate made the vital point to sum up the mood of many of the most vulnerable countries that,‘doing our best is no longer good enough’.
All of the countries rose to this challenge and used their negotiation skills over the break to make sure bilateral and multi-lateral cooperation really did translate into climate action. Technology was shared, joint research was set up and funds were offered if recipient countries could guarantee stronger policies, for example support coming from the Russian Federation to Brazil once they strengthen laws on illegal logging.
After these intense global negotiations, Mark Leach of Bristol’s Sustainable City and Climate Change Service helped the students to turn their attention to what we can all make a difference locally. He gave great examples of carbon reducing changes to energy, houses and transport that are happening in Bristol.
The Local Action marketplace gave schools opportunity to talk with Mark in more depth and to hear from other great local initiatives: ‘ Going for Gold’ and Bristol Food Network ; ‘Bright Green Future’ with Centre for Sustainable Energy; the issue of single-use plastics with Earthwatch Institute; GENeco talking about resource use; and sustainable travel with Living Streets.
Students each fed back how they want to make a difference in their schools. Their last words were how important it is to meet together and wishing ‘good luck’ to all the school projects.
‘If everyone comes to terms with the importance of the issue then everyone will make an effort to change their lifestyle.’ – Student, Redland Green School
The Conference and follow-up activities are part of ICN’s Climate Voices Programme supported by Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Garfield Weston Foundation.