Hounslow Climate Conference, December 2023.

In the build-up to COP28 in Dubai, the Executive-Secretary of UN Climate Change, Simon Stiell said that nations are taking ‘baby steps’ to avert the climate crisis (New Analysis of National Climate Plans, UNFCCC). 

Young people from 45 local secondary schools and colleges took part in their own climate talks in 7 conferences in November and December and tackled issues challenging negotiators at COP28 UAE, and their own local communities. In students’ feedback (see below): 

  • Almost 9 in 10 left the conference with a better understanding of how they could take climate action.   
  • Over 7 in 10 now felt more confident influencing others on climate change. 
  • 3 in 5 asked for support in school (advice, workshops etc) to deliver climate action plans. 

The conferences enabled students from across each area to be immersed in these critical global negotiations as at the UN, and to take strides on local action themselves.  

Who was involved  

We worked with host schools City of London School, Holme Grange School and The Forest School, and council teams in Birmingham City Council, London Borough of Hounslow, Reading Borough Council and Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council.

Our thanks go to: all the participating students and their teachers; the Directors and Associates at Just Ideas Ltd for their great collaboration, running the conference in Reading and co-facilitating and reporting on the series of conferences around COP28; key speakers and panel members for all they contributed to these dynamic and thought-provoking events; and the lead council teams and other team members in each conference. Read more here about these four conferences: 

Perspectives on COP28 

360 students formed teams and used ICN’s climate conference resource to research and represent the views of some of the world’s most climate vulnerable countries, BRICS alliance members, and industrialised nations as well as host nation United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Universal concern that the nations of the world are making insufficient progress was expressed by the young people representing their countries in all the conferences.  

Student delegations of Barbados and Marshall Islands pleaded from the frontline and they and many nations talked about the impacts happening right now from Jakarta as a ‘sinking city’ in Indonesia to more extreme weather, fires and droughts in Chile, Europe and South Africa as well as USA. 

This was true to the real-world position. COP28 UAE official website stated that the world must reduce CO2 emissions by 43% by 2030. This UN meeting was a global stocktake but the 6th Synthesis Report published by the world’s scientists ahead of the talks already showed beyond doubt just how far off track we are and that, ‘risks are increasing with every increment of warming‘ (IPCC 2023, p.17). 

The focus in the model conferences then turned to positive collaborations where students worked together to put forward resolutions on key themes. In a short period of time, the countries agreed clear packages of actions from cities leading the way on clean air zones and clean transport, to funding for re-forestation and phasing out deforestation globally. A fair transition to renewable energy was included along with protection for communities against sea level rise around the world. 

The actual COP28 final text included commitments to ‘transition away from fossil fuels’ with nations signing up to ‘accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power.’ See here. The students’ own debates concluded with pledges to ‘phase out fossil fuels’ by a target date, in wording that proved to be stronger than that agreed in Dubai. 

I enjoyed … 

“… thinking from the perspective of other countries in terms of their contribution and methods to cope with climate change.” 

“… the collaboration with the other countries about how we can improve energy sources together, thus making a bigger impact.” 

Spotlight on local action 

Importantly for climate action in their own areas, students put their local decision-makers on the spot. Council leaders and high-level panel members were quizzed by the students in response to their statements of progress and in Climate Question Time panels in several of the conferences. In Hounslow, students met a range of active local teams and organisations in a Climate Action marketplace.  

Here is just a small selection of the great questions asked: 

  • Emptying recycling bins in schools is charged at £4 per bin. With the cost of living crisis, and many families and schools having budgets stretched, why do schools have to choose between putting funding to environmental or education? Can the Council make a financial commitment to recycling in schools? 
  • What more can be done about litter in Solihull? 
  • Which two words describe what inspires you in your job? 
  • What is happening about greening our city?  
  • How can we meet the need for finances to support what needs to be done in the world? 
  • How can we get involved in working to protect our oceans? 

Schools’ pledges 

Schools committed to their own priority action from recycling, waste and plastics through to greater energy efficiency and improved transport plans, to setting up an eco-committee and working on restoring nature and biodiversity. As with the actual COP, we hope that schools will come back to report back on what they’ve achieved during the year. 

Student and teacher feedback 

Congratulations go to all students for their exemplary participation, and thanks to their teachers for their tremendous support. Our aim was for everyone to leave inspired and ready for more climate action, whether their influence lies in school, amongst family and friends, or in the wider community.  

Students’ rating of progress … and support they would like for their plans 
Almost 9 in 10 students don’t feel the government is making nearly enough progress on climate action.  Just under 1 in 2 said that councils (49%) and school (47%) are not making enough progress  A good proportion, however, were positive that the action being taken in their schools (41%) and local councils (30%) is the right amount.  3 in 5 students (60%) asked for support in school (advice, workshops etc) to deliver climate action plans  Over half of young people (53%) wanted help to have a bigger voice in decision making (school and community)   Slightly under 2 in 5 students (39%) would like help to influence family and friends to act on climate change. 

“I am planning to take action starting with those who are very close to me and gradually build up a bigger impact against climate change.” 

“As part of the eco-council, I will be taking ideas from today to implement them into our school community such as making meals more vegan and vegetarian as well as improving biodiversity on site and improving energy efficiency.” 

Uganda team at Hounslow Conference, December 2023.

Teachers also provided their feedback about the conferences. We were particularly interested to hear what support they thought would be useful as their schools take forward climate action. Three areas came out strongly : 

  • Almost 4 in 5 teachers would like to link to local organisations (88%) 
  • 3 in 4 teachers said support to engage their whole school in action would help (75%) 
  • Over 3 in 5 would like to share good ideas through websites, webinars and blogs (63%) 

“My expectations were surpassed. I knew students worked hard on prep, however the collaboration and debate were better than expected.” 

“Thank you for organising this day. It has motivated me to keep gradually chipping away.”