Why this topic matters
In November 2021, a year after originally scheduled, the UK is hosting COP26 - the 26th “Conference of the Parties”, where leaders from all around the world come together to discuss climate change and what actions they are taking to combat it. As the host nation, the UK is under more pressure than ever before to show leadership and ambitious action on climate change.
InterClimate Network has launched their Climate Action Survey report, showcasing findings from 3,800+ students aged 11 to 18 years. The survey found that there are clear perceptions of inadequate action by adults, businesses and governments, and this is leading to disempowerment.
Young people feel that, as they are the ones who are going to have to live with the reality of climate change, their views should have more of an influence. In this light, COP26 is an important opportunity to engage with young people on our rights and responsibilities around climate change - how it makes us feel and what we can do as individuals.
Connections to the curriculum
- English (writing): write a letter to your country’s representative for COP26 to explain your hopes and fears for the future, and what actions you would like to see come from COP26.
- English (speaking) and Drama: Enact COP26, using the InterClimate Network’s Classroom conference resources.
- Geography: Explore ways in which communities around the world are adapting to climate change.
- Design & Technology: Research some of the emerging technological solutions to climate change, or design your own solutions.
- Religious Studies: Explore teachings from different belief systems about human responsibilities in looking after the Earth, for example the Pope’s Laudato Si.
How to approach it
Focus on personal, practical actions:
The actions being discussed by world leaders at COP26 can feel removed from our everyday lives, and it can be difficult and frustrating to see people in positions of power making decisions that we don’t agree with, or not acting with as much urgency as we might hope. It is important to remind learners of the actions they too can take to make a difference. InterClimate Network’s Climate Action Survey found that over half of young people (55%) are acting at home with the support of their families, but fewer young people are acting on climate change in school (21%). The survey found that young people believe individuals have a role to play in mitigating climate change - many in their comments strongly advocate that we all, from large businesses to every individual, have a part to play, and joined-up actions are needed to make a real difference. By focusing on behaviours and choices within their own control, you can give them a sense of agency and empowerment, and remind them that we all have a part to play.
Inspire hope whilst managing expectations:
COPs take place almost every year, and every COP comes with the tag of being “the most important COP ever”, but COP26 might just actually be it. Five conferences on from the Paris Agreement (2015), all nations should submit their plans for greater climate ambition if we are to keep below 2degree Celsius temperature rise. The combination of climate and covid crises has now created a ‘perfect storm’ for change and so it is a real, important opportunity for wide scale change. However, it is inevitable that not all wishes will be granted by leaders in a single fortnight, and many climate campaigners have experienced disappointment or frustration following previous COPs, because their expectations and hopes were not met, and they felt that the issues were not taken seriously enough, or acted on with enough immediacy. It is important (for all of us!) that we showcase work already being led by cities, towns, communities, businesses and individuals that is driving the speed of change to maintain hope and action.
Draw attention to underrepresented voices:
Climate change is already impacting many people around the world, as well as other animals and lifeforms on our planet. Bring a global perspective into your classroom by sharing diverse perspectives on climate action from people around the world, and from environments and locations where climate change is happening. Invite students to consider who might not be present at COP26 and why. Encourage them to research the experiences of citizens around the world and share those stories in your classroom. Holding a model climate conference uses role play so that young people must take on different perspectives, often contra to their own views. This allows students to engage with and interpret for themselves the big themes that they will see being discussed at COP26 itself.
Take climate action as a school:
The Climate Action Survey shows that schools are the foremost source of trusted climate change information for their students and frequently provide the most inspiration, with teachers being cited as role models. As well as integrating COP26 and climate change into your curriculum, InterClimate Network recommends several key areas which you can focus on including energy, food and food waste, travel and transport, and purchasing. Campaigns such as Let’s Go Zero are a great way to begin taking action as a whole school.