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Department for Education Youth Focal Point for Sustainability and Climate Change: My time at COP28

Will Wale
January 1, 2024

I attended COP28 in Dubai from Wednesday 6 Dec – Saturday 9 Dec as one of the UK Department for Education's Youth Focal Points for Sustainability and Climate Change.

I was involved in several panel speaking events where my general talking points covered: the DfE Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy; my role as a Youth Focal Point, highlighting the unique position and how it works; my work to advance the aims of the strategy and serve as a conduit between young people and government; and my perspectives on sustainability education and green skills.

The COP28 venue

The first panel I sat on was Mock COP's 'Raising ambition for quality climate education'. The other panelists included a Mock EMS delegate for Uganda, YOUNGO and EU Youth Sounding board member, the National Focal Point for ACE in Ghana and the Pro-Director Education and Executive Director of the UCL Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education. This session focused on how we increase youth voice in policymaking around climate education and how we can build on existing schemes to ensure quality climate education reaches as many young people as possible. It was really interesting to hear perspectives on developing quality climate education and meeting the needs of young people. I was able to speak about the Youth Focal Point role and how it was providing a critical friend for the Department to both champion and challenge the strategy. Attendance included delegates from the UK, Ghana, Taiwan, UAE, and others.

The next event I spoke at was organised by the British Council on 'Developing skills for a greener society - international reflections'. This panel consisted of Sir Steve Smith, UK International Education Champion, Sarah Mukherjee, CEO at IEMA, and Heeta Lakhani, ClimAct Foundation. This session was very much a follow on from discussions held at the International Green Skills Conference hosted by the Department for Education in London earlier in the year, focusing on how green skills can be made more appealing to young people and how youth can be engaged with so that they can actually understand what green skills are. Conversation was quite wide reaching, but it was particularly interesting to discuss with Sarah in particular how we define what green skills are and where they sit within our wider understanding of developing “soft” skills in young people. I mentioned some of the frustrations faced with young people about not understanding what green skills are or the role they will play in society, and it was really interesting to discuss this with the panel. This session was streamed live on the UK Government YouTube channel. Many attendees were associated with the UK but there was also a strong showing from numerous other parties and stakeholders. I had some great conversations following this session with attendees from Japan and Thailand who were interested to learn more about the Youth Focal Point role and how young people in the UK are involved in shaping work around Green Skills.

Will speaking at the UK Pavilion, COP28

My final speaking engagement was at the RewirEd Summit, speaking alongside education ministers on 'How can governments engage with young people around sustainability education'. This panel included Baroness Barran, Minister for the School and College System at the Department for Education, UK Government, Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education, UNESCO, Her Excellency Nura Mustaf, State Minister, Ministry Of Education, Culture, And Higher Education, Somalia, Yasmine Sherif, Executive Director, Education Cannot Wait, Sofia Luna Quispe, Mock COP Campaign Coordinator for Latin America and Indigenous youth activist, Peru, and Shreya K.C., Mock COP Campaign Coordinator for Asia and YOUNGO youth activist, Nepal. This was a really interesting session that brought together a really wide range of stakeholders. Focus on government engagement with young people really allowed Baroness Barran and I to explain and advocate for the Youth Focal Point role as a key tool for allowing a consistent youth voice within the Department for Education in the UK. It was also really interesting to hear more about how Mock COP places young people at the heart of the policy making process, and how Somalia is taking an approach to engage with young people, as it increases school capacity, to equip them with an understanding of sustainability.

On the rest day at COP28, I supported the British Council's COP simulation event. This was really fun to facilitate alongside Neil Williams from the British Council and Nicola Walshe from UCL Institute of Education. Various schools from across Dubai sent a group of young people to take part in a simulation event where they had to act as either COP party countries, journalists, fossil fuel lobbyists or activists. I had previously supported a similar event with the British Council in Stratford for students from across London. It was really interesting to see the way the young people engaged with the tasks and sort consensus, progress and climate protection in their simulation.

Later that afternoon I went to a really interesting workshop with SOS-UK and Mock COP about what just climate education actually looks like - particularly looking at how climate change and impacts link with historic injustices and inequalities and how a whole systems approach can ensure that sustainability education is equitable, integrated in wider understanding of difficult historic issues and can help recognise the unequal burden of the crisis. I was also able to meet with some representatives of the World Scouting Organisation at this event, and it was really interested to hear about the role they are playing in discussing sustainability issues in a non-formal education setting on a truly global scale.

Will and his fellow panelists at the RewirEd Summit

Over the time I was at COP28 I made a really wide range of new connections, in particular with people from British Council, Let’s Go Zero, YOUNGO, Mock COP, UKYCC, Kew Gardens and various different UK universities. I attended multiple really good networking events which allowed me to meet many stakeholders. I have followed up with most of these to set up meetings in the new year, to see if we can collaborate in the future to expand Youth Focal Point engagement with young people and I can support their work. I am particularly interested in continuing to work with the British Council, as part of the international component of my role, as they develop and expand their sustainability education programmes. I am also excited to see how I can continue to work with Baroness Barran to progress the aims of the UNESCO Greening Education Partnership and ensure young people have a strong voice within it, alongside government.