Students from eight Hounslow secondary schools took on the roles of 11 key countries at COP26, from climate vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh and Marshall Islands through to high carbon emitting countries including Australia, China and USA. Timed with the last days of COP26 itself, they debated the issues clearly and with a tremendous depth of understanding.  

Working groups thrashed out actions that could be agreed to make a real difference, including protecting fisheries-based livelihoods, addressing sea level rise and warming oceans, and agreement on stopping severe flooding in cities. The pledges that were put forward at the end of the global negotiations were a real lesson in collaboration, and significantly, many rich nations also committed to play their part financially. 

ICN Stock Photo. ©Lynda Bowyer Photography

The second ‘Climate Question Time’ section of the conference was when questions of carbon reduction promises and action were brought close to home. Before posing their questions, students heard from a high-calibre panel (See their biographies here): 

  • Councillor Katherine Dunne introduced the session by talking about London Borough of Hounslow’s declaration of a Climate Emergency and the wider programmes of work as an indication of how seriously the issue is taken in the borough. 
  • Alison Lakey talked about her passion to bring all things green to school as we work towards Net Zero carbon. She offered her knowledge, experience and support to help other schools. 
  • Steven Wilding talked of the high-level objectives in the borough, particularly mentioning low and zero carbon transport including active travel and electric vehicle infrastructure, and the drive for relevant skills and ‘green’ jobs. A new Green Skills Academy is now being developed to be open to all (see this article). 

Students then put guests on the spot with some thoughtful and relevant questions, asking for the panel’s opinions about recent flooding in London, ethical justification for a third runway at Heathrow, and actions that can be taken in schools and by the borough such as more renewable energy and public transport. See a full write-up below

To conclude this full morning’s conference, students filled in a conference evaluation (see here) and also said one thing that they wanted to see COP26 achieve, one thing they would like to see happen in school, and what they would do themselves as a result of taking part. Here are just some of their statements: 

  • “We would like to see a positive future from COP26.”
  • “One thing I would like to see the council do is to utilise [renewable energy in] public places e.g. solar power, traffic lights”.
  • “One thing we would like school do is to continue to develop ways to recycle plastic and food waste.”
  • “I would like the school to do more local rubbish picking.”
  • “One thing we will achieve as individuals: spread awareness and ensure individual action”

“Thank you so much to InterClimate Network for putting on this event and we are so happy to have been able to do this again this year. Thank you to all the students and teachers from the schools involved, and to our officers at London Borough of Hounslow for their great work in support of the conference. I hope everyone takes forward all these wonderful ideas that have come out of the day.” 

Final comment from Councillor Katherine Dunne at the end of the Conference.
ICN Stock Photo. ©Lynda Bowyer Photography

Our thanks to all eight secondary school students and their teachers for taking part in the Hounslow Schools Climate Conference on 12 November 2021: Brentford School for Girls; Gumley House School FCJ; Gunnersbury Catholic School; Isleworth and Syon School; Logic Studio School Feltham; Rivers Academy West London; St Mark’s Catholic School; The Green School for Girls. 

InterClimate Network is also grateful to London Borough of Hounslow (LBH) staff and Geography Teachers’ Network, and also Hounslow Education Partnership, for their support, facilitation and actively encouraging so many schools to be involved. The conference formed part of our Climate Voices project funded by Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trustwith match-funding from Scottish Power Connecting the UK’ project funding and our thanks to them. Learning from the conference is also contributing to the Erasmus+ programme International Climate Action Network in which we are a partner organisation and The Green School for Girls is participating. 

Michila and Rachel, ICN Team.

“Thanks to everyone for your contributions to the conference, to teachers for their support, and especially to all students for your engagement and enthusiasm throughout. As with COP26 itself, the time for talk is done and now it’s about our actions – across Hounslow, in school and as individuals!” 

Michila Critchley, Programme Manager.

Climate Question Panel

Questions and Answers

Brentford School for Girls: Is there a way that plastic recycling could be made free in schools in Hounslow? We know recycling isn’t as good as reusing or refusing but is still an issue that we need help with. 

Alison Lakey: Well, the good news that plastic recycling is free for schools in Hounslow. We’re also able to recycle paper and cardboard and now, they’re going to introduce food waste recycling. 

We separate our bins in school and children are educated to know which bins to put them into. And we also try to not use plastic in the first place so lots of events and other things in school are now plastic free.  

A great place to start is to get an eco-team in school (if you haven’t already). Normally each class has one or two representatives voted in. They can do litter picks, make a kitchen garden, put bird houses into their schools, all sorts of things. This can then expand out to other children and then to parents. If anyone wants any help, please do contact me and I’d be very happy to respond via email. 

Isleworth & Syon: As students who consistently experience low-flying airliners over our school, can we ask whether there has been a guarantee on not building Heathrow Runway 3. 

Steven Wilding: This is a very good question and is very impactful and pertinent to yourselves. We’re going to live with that and the impacts in the area. It’s fair to say that there is no guarantee that the third runway will not be built. The questions gets to the tension that we have around the environmental agenda. On the negative side, we know that excessive flying is contributing to climate change and there are lots of environmental negatives. The reality is that when the decisions are made, this is balanced against other aspects. The case for a third runway was also in part around the economic side and it was deemed important for the growth of the wider UK economy, bringing in goods and people tied to the global economy and we need those transport links.  

Because of the impact of the pandemic and the drop in passenger numbers – it will take a while for them to return to previous levels – there is a reduced case for a third runway right now, but when this question arises again it will be about being honest and understanding the negative and positives aspects. If it does go ahead, we have a responsibility to ensure we have the maximum mitigation in place. What I mean by that is having limits on numbers of flight and flying hours, seeing if they can avoid certain routes over houses, and can we think about the future of aviation fuels making them cleaner.  

Gunnersbury Catholic School: What is the councils plan to add renewable energy into the borough? 

Councillor Dunne: We are investing in renewable energy. The one thing we have already done is switched all of our electricity in our Council buildings to renewable energy suppliers. There needs to be an increase in the amount of energy produced from renewable green sources in order for everyone to be able to do that.  

One of the biggest challenges that we have is that a lot of our council housing and buildings are heated by gas and this is very environmentally unfriendly. There are two things we can do: one is we can remove the gas and replace them something else. At the moment, this is hugely expensive and you will be aware that councils don’t have a huge amount of money for this sort of thing. We do have some excellent teams that are very good at bidding for money but this is one of the challenges that we have as a Council. I’d love it if we could say to central government that this is what we need to meet our Net Zero targets, and just put in for money. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like this, and we have to take time and effort to submit bids against other councils although we all have the same goals and it’s all for the good of the country.   

The other thing we can do is to make those homes and buildings more energy efficient so that they don’t need that energy in the first place. When you put in insulation where buildings already exist, it is called ‘retro-fitting’ and there is a big programme throughout London for retrofitting buildings. We are getting going on that with school buildings, council buildings and other corporate buildings and hopefully council housing as well. We also need individual home-owners to be involved. I think everyone might have heard about the group Insulate Britain – they have some controversial methods but what they are asking the government to do is absolutely right. We need to insulate homes across Britain if we are going to bring that energy use down. 

See a full list of Questions and Answers here.

“BA A320 approaches Heathrow runway 27L” by Jez B is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

One thing…

…I would like to see COP26 achieve:

  • Brentford School: One thing I want COP26 to do: countries to collaborate to achieve net zero 
  • Gunnersbury Catholic School: I would like to see COP26 lower overall carbon emissions to save our planet 
  • The Green School for Girls: We would like to see a positive future from COP26. 

…I would like to see London Borough of Hounslow achieve:

  • Isleworth & Syon: One thing we would like to the council to do is to make the process for getting green grants for solar panels easier. 
  • St. Mark’s Catholic School: Solar panels for schools 
  • Gumley House School FCJ: Council: provide funding to schools for solar panels. 
  • The Green School for Girls: One think I would like to see the council make more [renewable energy in] public places e.g. solar power, traffic lights.

…I would like to see happen in schools:

  • Brentford School: one thing for schools to achieve; bring awareness to recycling through assemblies and eco clubs. 
  • Gumley House School: Plastic recycling. 
  • Isleworth & Syon: One thing we would like school to do is continue to develop ways to recycle plastic and food waste. 
  • The Green School for Girls: I would like the school to do more local rubbish picking. Another thing the school would do is more easy access for food recycling.  

…I want individuals to do:

  • Brentford: one thing we will achieve as individuals: spread awareness and ensure individual action.
  • Gumley House School FCJ: Individual: realising that individuals have a powerful voice. 
  • Isleworth & Syon: One thing this event has inspired us to do is become more introspective regarding our actions and spread key messages to family and friends.