Please see this evaluation for students’ feedback after the conference.

Reading Conference.

In her opening address the Mayor of Reading, Councillor Rachel Eden said it was fitting that this climate conference for Reading students was being held on Remembrance Day 2022 stating, 

If the battle of the 20th Century was for peace, the battle for the 21st Century is for climate survival.” 

Councillor Rachel Eden

Students from six Reading schools meeting in Reading Council Chambers on 11 November took on the roles of 15 countries as though they were at COP27. Each group put forward their clear understanding of the risks and consequences of climate change for the nations they were representing. From crippling drought in Chile and Uganda to rampant wildfires in Europe and USA, country speeches catalogued the effects of 1.1°C temperature rise that are taking place across the world. Responding to the question, ‘Is sufficient progress is being made on all country emissions targets?’, the overwhelming majority said “No”. 

Indonesia delegates pleaded, “Don’t you think it’s time to stop digging our own graves and take action on Climate Change?

As with the actual COP, those already paying dearly for a crisis they didn’t create pushed hard for more action. Bangladesh said they have received ‘barely any’ of the £100bn put aside for climate development fund. For Senegal, their great concern was that universally, objectives are being made but are not happening soon enough, saying, “As some of the most vulnerable, we are clear that not enough is being done. It’s time for you guys to step up and also help financially”.

Delegates representing Brazil.

After some tough questions between the nations, this model conference achieved what can seem so difficult at the actual UNCOP27 and put responsibility to act on the global crisis above individual country needs. The conference agreed a set of collaborations that would stimulate more action, including sharing of technologies and speeding up the transition to renewable energy, critical interventions on deforestation, and also a vital new accord between USA and China, the world’s top two emitters. The USA delegates said, 

We understand our responsibility as world’s wealthiest country to lead the way with our policies.”

These were intense negotiations, even as a role-play and echoed many of the debates raging at COP27 (see this excellent summary of the outcomes from Egypt). In their feedback, many students said how they valued the experience, “Debating how different countries could improve their climate actions whilst still growing and developing their economies – working on sustainable development.” 

The second part of the conference then turned tables on the decision-makers in Reading in a great Climate Question Time. A panel including five members of Reading Climate Change Partnership’s (RCCP) Board represented a significant cross-section of themes and in their own 2 minute openers, each gave students a positive insight into action. See below for the panel inputs and just some of the many excellent questions from students. The full set can be found here.

Sarah Parker, Climate Change Partnership Coordinator at Reading Borough Council, let students know about just some of the many opportunities for climate action that are coming up, calling on everyone there to “help us as a town and community to get to Net Zero”.  The conference ended with students conveying their own pledges and for their schools, as well as what they would like decision-makers to do next (see here). As with COP27, the key to action is accountability and Sarah and the network are looking forward to hearing back from schools, and the panel, about their actions in 2023. 

Delegates representing Egypt.

ICN is grateful to Reading Climate Change Partnership and Reading Borough Council for their funding and support. This initiative forms also part of our work with the International Climate Action Network project (I-CAN) co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union.

Part Two: Reading Climate Question Time  

1.  Panel Introductions

‘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.

2. 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 Reading. 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.

Question: What can we do to make our leaders prioritise climate action despite not being able to vote?

Grace Andrews: A major proposal has been put forward by the Votes at 16 campaign (see here). The response does just show how important it is to the people of the country. At the time, the politicians weren’t taking it seriously but now the Youth Parliament is allowed in Parliament, showing how important it is. If you want to get your voice heard, you should think about joining the Youth Parliament.

Peter Moore: Writing to/e-mailing your elected representatives (MPs or Councillors) can be influential, particularly if you are clear about your concerns, support your arguments with evidence, and ask them what  they are going to do to address your concerns.

Question: Councillor Tony Page said the refuse truck fleet is on its way to all electric – are there plans in place to convert Reading buses to electric?

Councillor Tony Page: The use of a bus can remove anything up to 80 cars from our roads – and trains considerably more!  Providing power and fuel sources are genuinely renewable and sustainable the environmental benefits are self-evident.  But, as with all public transport, reliability and convenience are of the essence if we are to encourage modal shift.

The Council is looking to move as much of its operational fleet to electric vehicles in the future, subject to battery technology and capacity allowing this.  The battery capacity required for electric buses is still in its infancy and, for the time being, we need to look for alternative clean fuel such as methane and other natural gas generated from processes such as the treatment of waste food.  The waste food from Reading, Wokingham and Bracknell goes to a treatment facility near Wallingford and clean, green fuel is produced from this as well as beneficial fertiliser for local farmers. Promoting the greater use of public transport, cycling and walking, along with greater environmental awareness, will reduce the future dependency on the private car. 

Question: Are there many community run environmental projects around Reading to get involved in?

Natalie Ganpatsingh: There is a Green Well-being network in Reading and there are lots of community garden projects where you can learn about food growing. There are also lots of conservation organisations – for example The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) do a lot in Reading. Often volunteering is for ages 16 or 18+ but certainly with Nature Nurture, we are happy to bring younger people on board. 

Alison Foster: We have a staff well-being centre across from the hospital which is huge and offers lots of training opportunities. It’s partly open now but there will also be a community garden for people to use. 

Peter Moore: Yes – Reading has a long tradition of community run environmental projects. Many of these come together in the Greater Reading Environment Network – their website includes details of local groups and projects. Reading also has a Community Energy Society – this raises money from public share offers to fund solar panels on community buildings, with any profits being invested back into community projects.

Pledges and actions following this conference

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.

SchoolOne thing I would like my school to do …One thing I will do …
Bulmershe SchoolOne thing I would like my school to do is to use and implement recycling and food waste bins.
Think more about how much and necessary use of energy so that we aren’t wasting it.
Discuss with the school sustainable alternatives and ways to educate others.
Denefield School*Supply recycling bins for every classroom INCLUDING canteen and art departments.
Reinforce the separation of rubbish, recruitment of climate activists for enrichment talks, count volunteering in a community gardens as part of community service.
Look into how to join the Youth Council
Highdown SchoolTake climate action seriously and make it a vital improvement.
Use less single-use plastic in our school ie meals, waterways.
Look into Reading Youth Council
Kendrick SchoolOne thing I want my school to do is make recycling clearer and reduce plastic waste.
Create an enforced policy for schools regarding Climate Action.
Report back to Senior Leaders on this event.
Complete the Biodiversity Audit suggested by Natalie Ganpatsingh.
One thing I will do following this event is actively think about the environment in day to day decisions.
Ranelagh School (tbc)More energy-efficientInvest in renewable energy production (solar panels)
Our school should:
– Eco classrooms
– Plant more trees
– Teach more about climate change (talk about climate change or have an environment day at school).
Change your recycling habits and express thoughts to school council.   
Reading Girls SchoolEco-warriors
– Pick up rubbish
– Low waste canteen foods
– Compost to enrich biodiversity
– More greenery
– School garden/greenhouse
– Less cardboard waste and paper usage
Download here.

One thing I want decision makers to do…

  • is to meet their own targets and prioritise change over re-election
  • prioritise climate change in policy eg UK law that all new buildings must be carbon neutral / renewably powered
  • prioritise climate overall and follow through with their pledges and not to just give up.

* DENEFIELD PLEDGE (statement)

Currently at Denefield, our school is enrolled in the West Berkshire Trees for Schools initiative which has funded the planting of 5 new trees on our school field. Additionally, we have made the environmentally conscious decision to shift from styrofoam boxes to hold our canteen’s main meals, to the widely recycled bagasse packaging. We have also made the change from plastic cutlery to wooden alternatives. 

However, next steps with this are crucial. Our student leadership team began this school year looking into recycling bins for classrooms which the school does not provide. We need to start enforcing separation of recyclables and plan to do this firstly in the art departments to account for the vast amounts of wasted paper and in the canteen for cans, bottles and food waste.

We are also pledging to reduce electrical waste by looking into computers and lights in the school being turned off when they are not in use; what purpose do blinding flood lights on our 3G pitch serve when all the students are off on summer holiday?

In summary, these changes would benefit our institution economically too. We pledge towards implementing eco-friendly policies through the entire academy to reduce Denefield’s contribution to climate change and awaken environmental consciousness in all students.

This initiative forms also part of our work with the International Climate Action Network project (I-CAN) co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union.