With COP28 starting today in the UAE, 100 sixth-form pupils from 30 schools across Northern Ireland came together to debate on the global challenge of the climate crisis.
They were taking part in British Council Northern Ireland’s COP28 Climate Simulation Negotiation event at City Hall in Belfast, which saw the pupils play the part of world leaders, lobbying groups or media, in a bid to discover what it’s like to negotiate a real climate deal.
The event, which used computer software developed by Climate Interactive and MIT to create a real-life climate simulation, was taking place to coincide with the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, which runs until 12 December 2023.
During the negotiations, the pupils had to collectively agree on how much they were going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by, how they would help struggling nations, and agree on ways to adapt to climate change to protect their cities and people.
The negotiations were led by Dr Peter Doran, Senior Lecturer in Law, from Queen’s University Belfast, who has over 25 years of experience in UN negotiations on sustainable development, and Dr Amanda Slevin, Director of the Centre for Sustainability, Equality and Climate Action at Queen’s University Belfast. Pupils also zoomed in to the event live from Egypt.
Leading the negotiations were students Beth Murray and Sinead Casey from St Dominic’s Grammar School, Belfast who shared the role of the United Nations Secretariat General.
Speaking in her role as UN Secretary General, Beth Murray said: “At the end of the negotiations we managed to reach consensus to reduce emission and limit global temperature rise at 1.5°C which is huge win. We were told that our goal was impossible, but we charged on with teamwork and we knew we could achieve agreement. It has been a reality check for us today during the simulation as we’ve found how hard the negotiations are as I’m sure it is for many countries, business and organisations around the world at the real COP negotiations”.
Sinead Casey added: “Today was a great experience and gives us an insight into what is happening in Dubai this week at COP28. It’s the policies and actions now that will determine the future for climate change. We do not need just a few people act on this – we need everyone across the whole world, every day, doing everything in their power to speak out and protect our planet from the climate crisis. This event has shown it’s not easy, but if we work together, we can do it”.
Speaking at the event, Dr Amanda Slevin said: “Today at the City Hall, we’ve seen young people grapple with the challenges around global climate negotiations and work hard to reach a consensus. The experience has given them a great opportunity to learn more about the science behind the climate crisis and, through mock negotiations and discussions, discover more about what takes place at the COPs.
“Having worked with the young people today, it’s clear that they already have a fantastic grasp of the global issues we all face with climate change, and I hope today has inspired them to take these skills forward and keep pushing for action on climate change”.
Dr Peter Doran added: “This event shows that while the global conversation on the climate crisis still falters, young people have the energy, drive, and ambition to focus and ask the hard questions. Today at the City Hall, we have had the privilege of working with future policy makers and global citizens, a generation who already know that activism for the planet is crucial”.
Also commenting was Jonathan Stewart, Director, British Council Northern Ireland, saying: “As our research at the British Council shows, addressing the challenges of climate change is the leading concern for young people globally. This event has put students at the heart of climate negotiations, giving them an opportunity to experience the realities of international diplomacy and negotiation such as that taking place at COP28, providing them with the skills and confidence to take on some of the world’s biggest challenges.
“Well done to all those involved in today’s event - I’m delighted that young people from across Northern Ireland, the wider UK and Egypt are coming together to actively engage in the challenges of climate change”.
This is the third consecutive year that the event is coming to Belfast, where it originated. Following successful events in Belfast and London in 2022, this year the initiative is also taking place in Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Manchester.
The initiative is part of the British Council’s Schools Connect programme for schools in the UK and around the world. The British Council works with education policymakers to explore effective practices from other countries and help teachers to bring an international perspective to the curriculum. This supports all young people to build the skills, knowledge and attitudes they need to respond to global challenges and develop international understanding.
Through the Climate Connection programme, the British Council is also supporting people globally to find creative solutions to climate change in support of the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in UAE this month. The British Council is supporting the summit by engaging with networks of education professionals, students, academics, researchers, artists, civil society leaders and policymakers to participate in meaningful dialogue and bring about real change for our planet.
This event continues the British Council’s work, building connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and overseas through arts, education and English language teaching. To find out more about their work in Northern Ireland visit https://nireland.britishcouncil.org/ or follow on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
For further information please contact:
Anna Christoforou, Senior Media and Campaigns Manager, UK Nations, British Council
Images can be found here: Image Credits, Pacemaker Press International