On Tuesday 19th October, Wilmslow High School held its very own model COP26 summit. Around 60 lower-school students participated in a series of debates about the climate crisis, chaired by a team of sixth-form leaders. Each team was given a country whose views they would
have to represent; delegates were assisted by sixth-form volunteers in their research and preparation. Throughout the course of the day, everyone could clearly see the scale of the challenges awaiting the world leaders at COP26 in Glasgow.
The conference was opened with a speech from Professor David Hulme of Manchester University about the science of climate change, as well as the politics of fighting it. Professor Hulme outlined some of the potential catastrophic consequences of climate warming, as well as commending the students for stepping up to solve the crisis his generation had failed to prevent. He was met with a warm round of applause at the end, followed by a move into debate; the sixth-form chairs introduced the importance of COP summits with a presentation summarising some of the targets set at the Paris summit of 2015 and each delegation then delivered a one-minute speech about their targets from Paris, their progress, and their aims for the conference. It was here that our teams’ brilliant research, and the massive variety of perspectives to consider – from those who had already achieved carbon neutrality to those who labelled climate change a scam – shone through. Issues that fly under the radar in UK political debates were also brought under the spotlight; nations such as the Marshall Islands and Kenya highlighted the impact of flooding and other extreme weather. The debate that followed these statements focused largely on lower-income countries encouraging high-income countries not only to do more to limit their emissions, but also to support lower-income countries to reach carbon neutrality.
This theme ran through the next debate, which asked countries to consider whether they were willing to do more – above and beyond their current targets – to combat climate change. At each COP, countries are urged to ‘ratchet up’ their targets by setting more ambitious carbon-reduction targets. As may be the case at the real summit, many delegations expressed considerable reluctance to do so for a variety of reasons – these included protestations about the cost, often
coupled with appeals for support from developed economies, and concerns even from higher-income countries that a shift to renewable energies could hurt their economies. However, a series of impassioned arguments – most notably from the team representing Bhutan, who pointed out that they have achieved carbon neutrality in spite of the country’s low income – resulted in a majority of delegations agreeing to push themselves further in the fight against the climate crisis. Whether this sentiment will be reflected at the summit in November by the current generation in charge remains to be seen.
As the day went on, the participants’ presentations were once again invaluable in teaching everyone involved a thing or two not just about the UK’s climate change strategy, but also in widening our knowledge of the challenges the whole planet faces. Each team identified its biggest area of concern – oceans, food and forest, cities, or energy – and fed back to the floor about the dire prognoses in the field and what they proposed should be done about it. An incredible variety of solutions were suggested, from carbon taxes to conservation initiatives and from investment in renewables to international loans and grants from wealthier to poorer nations. Everyone in the room took away a much broader understanding of the ideas of people and governments around the world – whether they agreed or not!
The conference was closed with a debate over a comprehensive resolution our chairs had prepared in advance. Teams amended and debated the agreement until they found it acceptable, once again exposing the gritty negotiating that will be critical in Glasgow. Idealism had to give way to compromise on all sides – concerningly, there seemed to be no way to pass the agreement without pushing back the global carbon neutrality deadline to 2060, by which point global warming could have already surpassed the crucial 1.5° degree tipping point. Although Wilmslow’s conference was only a model, this is reflective of the difficulties world leaders are likely to face in Glasgow in November.
Would Wilmslow’s students have saved the world if this had been the real summit? Maybe not. But the passion of this generation about their future couldn’t have been clearer. When asked what message they wanted to pass on to the leaders ahead of COP26, the underlying answer was this: less talk, more action.