Our thanks to all six schools that took part in the Reading Schools Climate Conference on 10 November 2021:  The Bulmershe School; Highdown School; Kendrick School; King’s Academy Prospect; Maiden Erlegh in Reading and Reading School. 

We are very grateful to Reading Climate Action Network (RCAN) for co-funding this conference and to Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust for their support of the overall Climate Voices project. Working together with Reading Borough Council, including the facilities team, thankfully we were able to hold the event in Reading’s Civic Suite, with all COVID precautions in place and carefully followed.  

Students took up the themes of COP26 and debated them clearly and with a tremendous depth of understanding. The pledges that were put forward at the end of the global negotiations, summarised below in Section 1, are a testament to this and a real lesson in collaboration. 

The second part of the conference was when questions of carbon reduction promises and action were brought close to home. There was a high-calibre panel and the students put them on the spot with some highly relevant questions. See Section 2 for the questions and answers from the ‘Climate Question Time’. 

Students were asked to consider a final set of questions at the end of the conference: one thing that they would like to see school take up, one hope for COP26, and one thing that they will commit to. There are very many thoughtful , and inspiring, responses gathered in Section 3. 

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 the day. As with COP26 itself, the time for talk is done and now it’s about our actions – across Reading, in school and as individuals! 

Richard, Mary, Helen and Michila 

ICN Team 

BBC South Today coverage! 

 Section 1. Global Negotiations: Pledges

Cities: Ethiopia, EU, USA 

  • Developed countries more aid to Lower Income Countries through a global Climate Finance deal. 
  • USA and EU providing specific funding to Ethiopia for Hydro projects 
  • Sharing innovation – re Hydro and rail. 

Raising a global issue of the transition from carbon producing to carbon neutral processes, and to involve cities in each nation, developed countries pledged to financially aid Least Developed Countries in the tranfer of innovations, particularly the move towards green transport and railways, and hydropower. In addition, collaboration on Smart Cities and on re-investing charges for industry will be pursued to finance these moves. 

Energy: (Australia, China, India and Saudi Arabia) 

  • Calling for a global commitment to shifting land-use towards renewable energy faming – led by Saudi Arabia and Australia on Solar. 
  • Collaboration on research into safe nuclear fission and other new caron zero energy use. 

The move to renewable sources of energy was pledged with Australia contributing available land to solar energy and wind turbines on the coast, India and China sharing their knowledge of solar technology and China pledging integration of off-shore wind turbines, taking opportunities for collaborations. With Japan, Russia and UK as contributors, energy richer countries pledged to contribute to nuclear fission as a renewable enrgy source. Saudi Arabia as a nation with high GDP agreed to provide funding. 

Forests and Food: (Bhutan, Brazil, Indonesia, Russian Federation) 

  • A commitment to global policing of deforestation law – with indigenous people at the heart of it 
  • Commitment globally to develop more education opportunities for both producers (farmers) and consumers around products from sustainably managed products. 
  • Calling for a global commitment to become ‘deforestation neutral’ by 2030 – planting more trees than cutting down. 
  • Call for a ban on trade in products from illegally deforested land 
  • In a major move, Brazil committed to 32% decrease in deforestation due to a new policy and a pledge to restore 12 million hectares of land by 2040. 

Nations pledged steps to decrease the rate of deforestation and recognised the need to proivde financial support to low inome countries to grow sustainably so they are not reliant upon deforestation. The conference called for more commitment from governments for policing and laws, and to help policing of deforestation. The role of indigenous people was promoted in the policing of illegal logging. There was a strong call to stop trading with countries that aren’t compliant with the ending of deforestation. 

Oceans: (Bangladesh, Marshall Islands, Japan, UK) 

  • Seeking global commitments around coral protection and cleaning up ocean garbage and halting plastic pollution, and sustainable fishing 
  • Research collaboration on tidal power as a much greater percentage of electricity consumption and production by coastal nations. 
  • Mitigation – support with finance and technology to low lying climate vulnerable nations including flood defences and drinking water. 

Bilateral support was committed between nations to protect the coral reefs (Australia to the Marshall Islands). More finance is to be tied to developing tidal power, and reducing plastic pollution specifically requesting those countries that are a major source of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, looking to USA. Japan committed to a move to vegan food and there was a call for more sustainable and efficient fishing boats. Technology is to be shared to impact coastal erosion and salinisation processes. 

Section 2. Climate Question Time


Natalie Ganpatsingh, Director, Nature-Nurture CIC 

Peter Moore, Head of Climate Strategy, Reading Borough Councillor 

Peter Nash, Project Manager, Thames Water 

Councillor Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport. 

Questions and Answers 

Kendrick School: Do you ever meet up with other town councils to find out if you can work together? 
 Peter Moore: Yes there are a number of different networks that happen nationally and locally. In Berkshire, perhaps there is more that we could do with our immediate neighbours though meetings have happened recently to reconvene a Berkshire Climate Network. Reading has a Climate Action Network, and nationally there is some great work out there.  
Councillor Page: In terms of cooperation with adjoining councils, we try to work across historically archaic boundaries. I chair the Berkshire Transport Board responsible for the mass rapid transit (MRT) schemes in Reading, going out to Wokingham, West Berkshire and to the south of the town. At the Board level, cooperation works quite well although there have been delivery problems with some schemes. We are bidding regularly for further national funds to support new MRT schemes.   
Reading School: What are some of the renewable energy projects going on around Reading?  I know of one wind power project, are there any more? 
 Councillor Page: Within Reading, there are 7500 solar panels on Council buildings. Reading Hydro is a traditional screw turbine in the river, up close to Reading bridge. This was launched formally in August after some years of preparation.   As an introduction to other renewable sources, all the food waste from housing restaurants is going off to a plant in Wallingford and is being used to generate renewable electricity. Then the residue is used as a soil enhancer on farm-land.  
Peter Moore: In addition, we’re just pushing the transition to heat pumps for heating and cooling for the future. This was added to a block of Reading Borough Council housing just recently. As a Council, we also buy energy from a green tariff, generating demand for a green supplier.  
Kendrick School: How would you say COVID has influenced the trajectory of your aims and projects? 
 Natalie Ganpatsingh: Amidst the tragic side of COVID, it feels that more people than ever before have recognised the value of nature. Nature really provided that sanctuary. For my organisation, Nature Nurture, everything we do is free so we rely on funds and fundraising. In that sense, wide recognition of the importance of nature during lockdown has put us on a good trajectory. 
Peter Nash: As a utility company there have been major impacts. We have two head offices in Reading and all of those people started working from home. This was really demanding logistically to make sure that people had the right IT equipment at home to answer customers’ calls.   We go to people’s houses and need to access back gardens so we had to look seriously at the risks. There was a working group throughout the org to help deliver that change and looking at guidance.  As an operational team, we needed to make sure that we were working alone. Engineers and technicians had to be reflective. Health, mental health in isolation working from home all came up and there has been a massive impact.  
Peter Moore: There have been some positives and some negatives. In the Council, we looked at how people move around. During COVID, cycling rates went up as a proportion of all journeys but use of private cars also went up and numbers using public transport went down. The challenge now is to switch that around.  There is complicated national system for compiling data about carbon emissions so we won’t know the impact of the pandemic on Reading Borough’s emissions as a whole until the next data is published in summer 2022, but we do know that we saw our own corporate emissions within the Council drop by 17%. This is not really surprising as we had to shut swimming pools, libraries, and the Civic Suite.  The pandemic has undoubtedly slowed down our plans, and there is a re-ordering of priorities taking place now.  
Reading School: Directed to Natalie, can you give an example of a project and how it has affected  wellbeing? 
 An example of a project is our Children and Nature programme looking at how can we improve the health and wellbeing of children. For the wellbeing impacts, we were looking at what difference does outdoor learning and forest schools have on students who took part. Something called the Sterling Wellbeing scale was used as a way of measuring change, taking a baseline position and then doing follow-up.  We also had to measure pro-environmental activities that came from the project. An example is the school grounds and we show a before and after, with treeplanting and wild flowers.  
Bulmershe School: What are you doing individually to limit your carbon footprint? 
Peter Moore: I’ve done a lot more during the pandemic, clocking up 2800 miles on my bike. This has mostly been leisure travel but spending all that time on the bike means that I don’t use the car. It has also made me fitter. I’m in a running battle with my local council (not Reading!) to have solar panels on my roof.  
Natalie Ganpatsingh: I’ve been using my car less and doing more cycling. In my family, we are also trying to eat vegetarian meals in the week. And I am trying out a 1 minute cold shower every day!!   Councillor Page: I invested in an electric bike, and as I live next to the town centre, am committed to walking. Going further afield, I’m looking to travel more by train and less by plane. This is only good if you’re travelling by electric trains, rather than the old diesels, of course.  
Peter Nash: I travel to London quite a bit through work using the train and I sold my car during the previous lockdown. Certainly I’m eating less meat, and although it’s not full time, the vegan options are starting to taste a lot better than they used to! Also I am the Chair of a local football club and we’re looking into how to get funding to change our lights and solar for the club building.   
Bulmershe School: How successful do you think the Smart Water system is going to be in the future?  
Peter Nash: It has got the potential to be a complete game changer in terms of the industry and how we manage those networks going forward.  Read more here:https://www.thameswater.co.uk/about-us/newsroom/latest-news/2021/feb/sewer-monitors-help-detect-blockages    
Highdown School: How would you encourage people to use public transport? 
 Councillor Page: Reading Buses took a big hit along with all transport operations. This is one of the most successful companies in the country and before COVID we had the second highest use of public transportation in the country. The best way to return to that is to insist that it is safe, with the wearing of masks to be mandatory. I would do this if we could. For the future, we have to ensure that the cost of public transport is fairer. The UK Government has been sustaining and subsidising public transport throughout the pandemic, but that won’t last much longer.  A further consideration is that as we move to electric vehicles, hopefully, it will leave a big black hole in terms of government revenue from petrol and diesel – this means a £40billion hole that has to be filled. I would charge cars as they’re used on the roads – called Tolling. This will also encourage public transport use, then it would bring the two very much into better comparison.  
Natalie Ganpatsingh: What if we could get beyond thinking about travel just as getting from A to B, but instead as an adventure on your doorstep. Nature-Nurture have been thinking that maybe we could have a week in the summer where families can have a free travel pass to get to the parks perhaps. During this week there would be lots going on in the parks, and it would help generate a sense of adventure.  
Peter Nash: In terms of business, Microsoft Teams has done an awful lot to help think about meetings differently, cutting down the amount of times we travel for long period to get to a 1.5hours meeting, for instance.  Also in big companies like Thames Water, there are car replacement schemes – if you have an ageing car, you can swap it to a more efficient vehicle. We also have discounts in terms of trains and also for the National Trust!  
Kendrick School: Are there any new challenges you’re facing due to the pop of Reading increasing and how are you meeting them? 
 Peter Moore: We can’t control the rate at which people breed, of course! Globally, the population growth rate is now declining, I believe (see here to fact check). Locally, if every new home is as inefficient as they currently are, then clearly this will be a problem. So it’s about making the homes we live in more efficient. In Reading, we have a Zero Carbon Homes policy requiring new build houses to be much more efficient than national requirements. This will help accommodate a growing population. Contributing to accommodating more people is a national process that we don’t get to control – each area has to show how we are helping to meet ‘housing need’.   
Highdown School: Are heat pumps as affordable and effective as gas boilers? 
 Peter Moore: It depends!  They are more efficient undoubtedly from a carbon point of view, but in terms of affordablity, it depends on how you pay for it, how much energy you use, how well insulated your building is and how much you pay for your electricity. In the future, you won’t actually be able to get a new gas boiler after 2035 and I suspect that the date for this will get brought forward. If you include the cost of carbon, or can get access to a government grant, then it makes it a bit easier to make that decision to switch.  
Reading School: Has Reading Council considered congestion charges? 
 Councillor Page: Yes we have, and yes we are [considering it]! It’s one of the options that we’re still looking at. We’re also considering Clean Air Zone, Low Emissions Zone, options that would charge every vehicle driving through Reading as a short cut. Bath and Birmingham have a whole host of exemptions in their scheme. We are going to come forward with a plan – the status quo is not an option.   

Section 3. Pledges made by delegates at Reading’s Model COP26 – individual and school, and hopes for COP26 in Glasgow 

School pledgeHopes for COP26Individual commitment
Kendrick– To encourage less meat eating, serve veggie options
– Promote recycling bins at school
– Use less paper and recycle more 
– Reduction of paper consumption and introduction of climate friendly technology 
– Use less paper 
– Bring your own cutlery initiative – ban plastic disposable cutlery, use reusable. 
– Increase in numbers of recycling bins 
– Less paper consumption 
– Change to a more sustainable heating 
– Foodwaste bins 
– To promise to reduce carbon emissions and take action 
– I would like to see delegates at COP26 make as much (or even more) effort to create and stick to ambitious climate goals. Everyone needs to do as much as they possibly can 
– More economically developed areas providing aid to poorer nations 
– See countries make ambitions targets, with richer and those more responsible for green house gas emissions pledging to support more vulnerable countries so that the effort is truly global. 
– More support for poorer nations 
– Use more public transport 
Walk and cycle as much as possible/practical.
-Use more public transport 
– Use less plastic 
– Buy local goods 
– Cut down on meat 
– Be more aware of my energy and water consumption 
Maiden Erlegh at Reading– My school could do more to raise awareness towards this topic. 
– To use more technology than paper. 
– One thing I would like school to do is educate students 
– I would like them to achieve the goals that they have said 
– For all countries to achieve what they say they will and exceed them 
– One thing I would like to see at COP 26 is reduced carbon emissions 
– This has inspired me to try to do more individual tasks to help tackle climate change 
To use my bike more often 
Reading School– Ensure larger windows and skylights throughout the school to limit need for electrical lighting 
– Well-insulated buildings to limit fuel use for heating. 
– Install solar panels 
– Serve less meat in the refectory 
– More money from HICs [high income countries] to LICs [low income countries], and recognising the role of indigenous people 
– More countries agreeing to net zero CO2 
– More ambitions plant and targets implemented
– Cycle more, reduce waste 
– Appreciate the mental health impact of climate change 
– Appreciate that it is not just a distant problem – a real problem, impacts now such as in Ethiopia 
– Walk more often and take public transport more often 
Prospect School– To bounce off each other and use each others’ ideas to cut down the greenhouse gas emissions.  
– Also to come together and unite as one to solve this issue 
– This makes me want to walk more and use less transport 
– This event has inspired me to walk to places instead of taking transport 
– I am inspired to take public transport rather than private transport 
Bulmershe School– I would like school to cut back on one-use plastic like water bottles. 
– Encourage students to learn outside and go outside. 
– A garden by the Ivory centre 
– More recycling bins 
– Recycle more paper 
– I would like Bulmershe School to look into introducing food waste bins and use Ecosia as a search engine 
– Use Ecosia, a browser that uses advertising revenue to plant trees, as a browser. 
– One thing I would like COP26 to achieve is supporting LDCs [less developed countries] with their recycling 
– To help low income countries beat climate change 
– Promises for action 
– Laws in place for deforestation 
– Action taken sooner rather than later 
– Make attainable changes to combat climate change 
– As many goals as possible, and make agreements 
– To achieve agreements that lead to a temperature rise of only 1.5 degrees
– Reduce my carbon footprint 
– Walking more 
– Shorter showers (x2) 
– Cycle to places more 
– Waste less water 
– This event has inspired me to adopt a solar panel in India 
– To use a 4 minute shower timer! 
– I’m inspired to take global issues into consideration 
Highdown– Sustainable energy particularly in lighting – Lower carbon emissions, updated aims and financial aid for LICs [low income countries]

“As with COP26 itself, the time for talk is done and now it’s about our actions – across Reading, in school and as individuals!”

InterClimate Network