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Reflections on COP28

Quinn Runkle
December 12, 2023

Over the weekend, the SOS-UK team all arrived home from Dubai, having concluded our programme of engagements with the first-ever Children, Youth, Education & Skills Day.  

We now watch with trepidation as the remaining hours of COP28 focus on difficult negotiations, trying to retain language around phasing out fossil fuels in an effort to limit warming to 1.5C.  

Dubai was my second COP and I’ve come away again with the same difficult mix of emotions and reflections…

It is so devastating to see the ever-growing delegation of oil lobbyists, corporations and other actors who have no interest in phasing out fossil fuels. As Amit, our brilliant Mock COP Campaign Coordinator for Europe, said in a workshop he ran at COP: delays to mitigation and inaction on adaptation are direct decisions about who dies from extreme weather events. The gravity of the decisions being made through the negotiation process cannot be underestimated.  

And, meanwhile, within this context of ever-worsening headlines and predicted negotiation outcomes, you find yourself surrounded by the most energised, inspiring, diverse and motivated people. Bonded by a common aim to tackle the climate crisis, you are able to dive deeply into solutions-oriented conversations everywhere you go, from the high-level sessions to the grassroots capacity-building workshops to late-night journeys home on the metro. It is an adrenaline-fueled week of exchanging ideas and inspiration, readying us all to hit the ground running in the new year with renewed purpose and focus.  

Our work at COP this year had a clear aim: to support young people in advocating for more ambitious climate education policies.

Our Youth Climate Education Meet-Up, hosted in the British Council Pavilion

At COP26 in Glasgow we were delighted to work with the UK COP Presidency in partnership with Italy, UNESCO, and Youth4Climate to host the first-ever  Environment and Education Ministers Summit. More than 25 countries pledged for mandatory climate education and committed resources to enable this.  

Last year, in Sharm-el-Sheikh, we were excited to see a growing buzz around education, including the launch of the Greening Education Partnership, coordinated by UNESCO.  

This year marked a significant step forward: the first-ever Youth, Children, Education and Skills Day at COP. As one of many organisations who have long called for education to be more deeply embedded into COP, we are delighted to see this taking place and celebrate this as a legacy of youth advocacy for education.  

Will, one of the Youth Focal Points for Sustainability and Climate Change for the UK Department for Education, speaking on a panel at the UK Pavilion

Our work throughout our time in Dubai was shaped and informed by the Mock Education Ministers’ Summit outcome document: the first-ever Youth Statement for Quality Climate Education, representing the collective voice of 227 young people from 89 countries brought together this past year. The youth statement sets out key criteria for how youth define quality climate education, which includes things like: embedded across all subjects, solutions and action-oriented, empowering and critical, inclusive and intersectional, and free from conflicts of interest.  

Events throughout the week convened policy-makers, ministers, youth advocates, and educators. We facilitated capacity building workshops for other young people at COP, discussed what quality climate education actually looks like, and showcased how young people and policymakers have collaborated in-country to progress change. This culminated in a high-level session in which young people presented the Youth Statement for Quality Climate Education and heard responses from ministers about how they can work with young people in-country to progress its outcomes.  

Our high-level ministerial event at the RewirEd Summit, facilitating a conversation between youth and education ministers.

As difficult as COP is, and as depressing as the headlines may be coming out today, I hold hope that education remains a key tenant to driving forward positive change. It’s through education that we can ensure future generations are adequately equipped to address and adapt to climate change. However it’s not just that… we also need education to ensure the electorate are well-informed enough to elect and hold to account governments who will take decisive action to achieve a post-carbon economy. And those who are at the sharp edge of the impacts of the climate crisis deserve to understand the absolute injustice they are experiencing in losing their livelihoods, culture, homes and lives to a crisis which they did not contribute to creating. Education is not just about ensuring future leaders are better equipped, it’s also about making sure that the general public worldwide fully grasp what it is that we face so that we may respond swiftly and fairly.  

Holding a panel event at the Greening Education Hub, run by the UAE Ministry of Education and UNESCO.

Huge thanks and gratitude to all those who contributed to the critical discussions this week:  

  • Baroness Barran, Minister for the School and College System at the Department for Education, UK Government
  • Nicola Chopin, Project Manager, the MECCE Project and Sustainability and Education Policy Network (SEPN)
  • Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education, UNESCO
  • Keshoe Isaiah, Mock EMS youth delegate for Kenya, Mock COP
  • HE Nura Mustaf, State Minister, Ministry Of Education, Culture, And Higher Education, Somalia
  • Walter Osigai Etepesit, Mock EMS delegate for Uganda, YOUNGO and EU Youth Sounding board member
  • Ana Romero, Educator and Senior Advisor in climate matters for the UN’s Capacity-Building and for Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico
  • Yasmine Sherif, Executive Director, Education Cannot Wait (ECW)
  • Dr. Emmanuel Tachie-Obeng, National Focal Point for ACE, Ghana
  • Nicolas Vogt, Education Officer, Office for Climate Education
  • Will Wale, Youth Focal Point for Sustainability and Climate Change for the Department for Education, UK Government
  • Nicola Walshe, Professor of Education, Pro-Director Education and Executive Director of the UCL Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education

And finally my absolute admiration for our amazing team: Amit, Sofia, David, Shreya, Will, Mel and Zoe.  

Quinn Runkle, Director of Education