MockCOP: Practice makes perfect
By BEL JACOBS
In December this year, the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference - known as COP25 - will gather in Santiago, Chile to discuss climate change. The issue has never felt so urgent. The conference follows months of soul-searching by individuals, communities, businesses and governments alike as report after damning report documents new planetary crises - and, despite ambitious targets and fine talk, how little we are actually doing to tackle them.
October’s landmark work by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warning that there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, was seismic; at the launch of the most recent - the State of the Global Climate report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) - UN Secretary-General António Guterres underlined the alarming conclusion that climate change is accelerating, “faster than our efforts to address it.” All these reports speak of a planetary future threatened, in every aspect, by human activities. And it is this future that is the focus of the next round of an innovative educational programme, taking place later this summer.
MockCOP was launched in 2015 by the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA) and Size of Wales, a Welsh charity working on natural climate solutions. Modelled on the real event, representatives from countries around the world debate ways to tackle climate change - just like in the real COP. The difference? Negotiators are groups of students aged between 14 and 18 years old from across Wales, each given a real COP nation to speak on behalf of.
The philosophy - of giving young people the tools and practice they need to tackle the very concrete climate challenges they face as adults - is gaining traction across all areas in sustainability. “[It’s] is a fantastic opportunity that builds learners’ skills, knowledge and confidence so they can act on the crucial topic of climate change,” agrees WCIA’s CEO, Susie Ventris-Field. “And it aligns with the new curriculum in developing ethical, informed citizens.”
And ethical, informed citizens are exactly what the planet needs right now. For MockCOP, students research their nation’s positions on climate change, present their cases in conference and work to reach agreement with other nations. Learning curves can be steep if they’ve not considered that nation before - and that nation is suffering. “If they’ve been given Fiji, for example, they have to find out what Fiji is experiencing in regards to climate change,” explains Anna Harris, Size’s Campaigns & Communications Coordinator.
A lot of preparation takes place beforehand, in the schools themselves - a valuable part of the programme’s outreach and wider influence. “Participating schools send delegations of students - but those students will have worked with their classmates to understand [their nations],” says Harris. And communication continues after the event: “We’ve heard of instances where students have gone back and delivered presentations to younger kids,” she continues.
It’s a demanding, stimulating process. “What’s been incredible is to see young people wrestling with these issues but, at the same time, maintaining a great level of ambition for the future,” said WWF-UK's CEO, Tanya Steele, who chaired the 2017 debate. “They’ve had to negotiate their positions around set resolutions, which raised all sorts of questions and debates - and indeed upsets - in order to get to some quite extraordinary outcomes."
Last year, the programme was Highly Commended in the Sustainability Academy Wales Awards; this year, with the support of the ScottishPower Foundation, MockCOP has grown - from one event, hosted in Cardiff, to several regional events across Wales, culminating in a final in Cardiff at the Senedd, the Debating Chamber of National Assembly, Wales, in November, around the time of COP25.
Nearly 250 pupils from around 80 secondary school will participate. As part of the programme Size of Wales are developing a cohort of young Climate Change Champions across Wales, with an inspirational evening of workshops before the Final, so that participants can explore ways to become change makers and Climate Change Champions: “The idea is to co-create with participants the idea for what it means to be an ambassador,” says Harris. “They will help us shape the programme.”
“Climate change isn’t about the government doing something,” says one student from the 2017 event. “It’s about everyone taking part, everyone actively doing thing. It really opened our eyes on what to do.” The knowledge will serve them well.