Cheltenham Climate Conference Screenshot

The Cheltenham Climate Conference was held online during the morning of Thursday 4th November 2021. Students from six schools in Gloucestershire took on the roles of key countries at COP26, advocating for their needs in a warming world. The students took on the roles of different countries, from more vulnerable countries such as the Marshall Islands and Ethiopia through to high-carbon-emitting economies like the European Union. Pupils took part from Churchdown School Academy, Balcarras Academy, Pittville School, Cleeve School, Stroud High School and Pate’s Grammar School.

The Conference was timed with day 4 of COP26 itself, adding an extra urgency and importance to the debates. There was a formal welcome from Councillor Steve Harvey, Mayor of Cheltenham, to start off proceedings. In Part One of the Climate Conference, the students took part in Global Negotiations, discussing progress since Paris 2015, raising global ambition before arriving at actions and resolutions. Students were clear in their demands during the negotiation section, and demonstrated excellent understanding of their countries’ priorities.

“My view is that you can either be overwhelmed by the problems or fall in love with the solutions.”

Raechel Kelly, Vision 21 & Planet Cheltenham

In Part Two of the Climate Conference, we focused on Local Action. Climate Question Time saw input from an inspiring panel who responded to students’ questions on everything from reducing energy, and making Cheltenham more cycle friendly to the scale of the investment strategy. Our thanks to Raechel Kelly, James Clarke, Isabella Kaminski, Tolly Gregory, Bex Mountford and Councillor Max Wilkinson for giving your time to be on our panel.

Students then went on to make their own pledges for climate action. There were some great ideas from students, drawing on the urgency of the global negotiations to devise a set of specific, ambitious and achievable goals.

As a young person I can try my best to ensure that I’m not just being used as a symbol of hope and that I can challenge older people and the older generations to actually take action on behalf of myself and young people like yourself.’

Tolly Gregory, Climate Activist and Artist

ICN Stock Photo from Cheltenham 2019 Climate Conference

Global Negotiations

Part One of the Climate Conference started with opening statements from country delegations, discussing how their nations were already affected by climate change. Delegates explained how what their current targets to reduce emissions were, and the progress their country had made towards the goal. Students also described how their countries had helped different people, places and sectors to adapt to the changing climate. Students presented their opening statements with great skill, showing excellent prior research and in-depth understanding.

We then moved on to responses and open debate, discussing the following three questions:

  • Do you agree that sufficient progress is being made on all country emission targets? 
  • Is your country willing to do more, even beyond its targets? 
  • How far can collaboration on Cities, Energy, Forests & food and Oceans help to raise global ambition?  

Students discussed the global topics of cities, energy, forests and food before devising and bringing resolutions to the Conference. Pupils then voted to carry the resolutions; there were excellent ideas put forward reflecting the high level collaboration occurring.

Local Action

Part Two of the Climate Conference brought the issues discussed in ‘Global Negotiations’ closer to home so that the students could have a say about climate action in their area. In ‘Climate Question Time’, local decision-makers made short contributions and young people will be invited to put forward their questions and contributions to the panel.

Climate Question Time

‘Climate Question Time’ started with panellists giving a short introduction to their work and their current priorities. It was inspiring to hear from professionals to hear how they combat the climate crisis through their work. Thank you very much to the panel for their insights. The full text can be found below or at this link.

Questions and Answers

Following the panel’s introductions, there was time for the students to ask their questions. Pupils made a range of insightful comments, drawing on various priorities for Cheltenham. It was really interesting to hear the panellists’ points of views regarding these topics. A selection of these questions is below, with the full text later in the article or at this link.

Pate’s Grammar School: How can we help make Cheltenham more cycle friendly?

Bex Mountford: I think everybody just getting out on their bike more. More cyclists on the road really helps. I think I’m talking to your school to see if they can help with bike racks or bike buses to help people get to school. Talk to your local councillors and ask them to put in safe cycling routes for you. And I guess badger your parents to go out on rides with you and things like that as well. Just look at all the little tricks that you could do. You know – going to the shops – can you manage to go and get what you want on your bike instead of driving to the shops? . I think the more cycling we see, the more people realise, oh, that’s an option for me too. Maybe I can go and do that. Wherever we can, just do it.

“We do have an absolutely gargantuan challenge and I’m clear as much as everyone else on the panel that we can never do enough.”

Councillor Max Wilkinson

Pate’s Grammar School: Is the [Council] investment strategy big enough?

Max Wilkinson: Inevitably it won’t be big enough. The trouble that councils have had is that our budgets have been cut to basically zero by the government. So we have difficulty because we want to do an awful lot more but we just don’t have the resources. What we can do is put in place policies in our existing ‘business as usual’ activities to make sure that we are pointing things in the right direction. This is why we need to get our planning rules in place properly and our licensing rules in place in terms of our investment strategy. We think that we’re going to be able to announce about £10 million to invest in good green projects that will probably make a commercial return too. Of course on the other side, there will be an awful lot of stuff that we need to do that’s going to make no commercial return. For those projects, we’ll be bidding to government for funding most of the time.

Stroud High School: What can big fashion brands do to make their items more sustainable? 

Tolly GregoryThey can stop producing so much! One of the biggest issues with fast-fashion is scale. We need to rapidly reduce how many planetary resources we’re using, especially when fashion is so wasteful. ‘Hot Take’, ‘Drilled’ & ‘Idealistically’ are great podcasts to listen to, too! I might be a bit biased about that last one! 

School pledges

In the final part of the Climate Conference, students committed to exciting pledges for action. This included great discussion of the ways in which students could make the most difference at their schools. We are really proud of the students for devising such interesting and important goals.

Churchdown School: Create ambitious yet achievable goals that will be stuck to. 

Churchdown School: This event has inspired us by showing us that there are people making a difference, we think that we should do more of these meetings so we can understand more of what the world is doing for climate change. 

Pate’s Grammar School: A global agreement, bring in youth to local discussions, join parliament. 

Pate’s Grammar School: Keep the global temperature. increase to below 1.5C. 

Pate’s Grammar School: Make heating and lighting more efficient. 

Stroud High School: Collaborate with others and connecting with other areas to help push the agenda. 

Cleeve School: We would love to do this again with the other schools in person. 

Cleeve School: We would like the school to dedicate budget to environmental problems that we can work on solving. 

Pittville School: Create accountability for climate goals, to enact real change. 

Balcarras Academy: We would like to see more people taking part in the discussion, whether that’s countries collaborating or within the local area different groups working together. 

We would like to thank all those who took part for their contributions to a really interesting day.