Sixth formers from Highgate School joined forces with others from six local schools to hold their own version of Cop28, the UN’s 28th Climate Change Conference.
Over 60 students from Highgate, London Academy of Excellence in Tottenham, Acland Burghley, William Ellis, Parliament Hill, Highgate Wood and Channing schools came together to mirror the union of politicians, scientists and activists from all over the world in Dubai.
Adam Pettitt, head of Highgate School, said in his opening address: “It is the most global agenda imaginable, and one which can only be tackled through partnership and collaboration.”
Pupils worked in teams with their local peers to represent 12 countries from the conference, including the UAE, China, and the Marshall Islands. They were challenged to research and adopt differing perspectives from around the world, according to the priorities of their assigned nation.
An important part of the day was facing problems that required them to work together, in areas such as forests and oceans, listen to different points of view and compromise to find solutions.
Sarah Mynott, lead teacher for the environment at Highgate, who organised the conference, said: “So many young people feel completely disenfranchised. Despite being incredibly knowledgeable, passionate, and politically engaged, without the right to vote, they do not have a recognised political voice, contributing to many young people feeling hopeless and abandoned by older generations.
“Coming together like this, making connections with other like-minded people and knowing like they’re part of something bigger, is so valuable to so many of them.
“There was a collective understanding of how important the issues are and how hard they are prepared to work at them. Getting the chance to speak up, develop their confidence, and use their voice to participate in the political conversation was really powerful.”
Year 13 Highgate pupil, Daphne, said: “The Mock COP event was such a fun and informative afternoon. It was inspiring to collaborate with so many pupils from different schools and to hear everyone talking with such passion about a topic we all care deeply about.”
Zack Polanski, deputy leader of the Green Party of England & Wales and member of the London Assembly, provided inspiring insight throughout the event.
He reflected on his experiences of campaigning for environmental justice and of participating in COP26, urging pupils to use their voice where they can.
He said: “If there’s one huge thing you get from the experience this afternoon, I hope it’s realising your own power. Whether that’s a traditional political space, or a work stream that you’re looking to go into, make sure you take that responsibility as much as you can. Together, that’s how we change our towns, how we change our cities.”
A teacher from London Academy of Excellence, Tottenham – Highgate’s flagship partner school – added: “An important aspect of the day was connecting with other students. It was fantastic to seem them getting stuck in straight away, making speeches and participating in the debates.”
Gabriel Roberts, head of environmental sustainability for Highgate, who chaired the event, said: “I think an event like this normalises a knowledge and understanding of environmental politics among young people, which can help bring about the change we need. I hope that they’ll take away a sense of empowerment, a sense that people like them, through hard work and collaboration, can make a real difference.”