Northern Ireland

Students lead the fight against climate crisis at mock Cop28 conference

Amy Conn, left, with Sonia Stopa from Hunterhouse College who took part in the Climate Negotiation Simulation (Liam McBurney/PA)
Amy Conn, left, with Sonia Stopa from Hunterhouse College who took part in the Climate Negotiation Simulation (Liam McBurney/PA) Amy Conn, left, with Sonia Stopa from Hunterhouse College who took part in the Climate Negotiation Simulation (Liam McBurney/PA)

Students from across Northern Ireland have come together to negotiate a global solution to the climate crisis in a mock geopolitical conference.

About 100 sixth-form pupils from 30 schools came together to debate on the global challenge of the climate crisis at Belfast City Hall on Thursday.

The British Council Northern Ireland Cop28 Climate Simulation Negotiation event saw the pupils play the part of world leaders, lobbying groups or media, to learn about the process of negotiating a real climate deal.

The event took place to coincide with the beginning of the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop28) in Dubai, which runs until December 12 2023.

Students across Northern Ireland come together for the Cop28 Climate Negotiation Simulation at Belfast City Hall (Liam McBurney/PA Wire) (Liam McBurney/PA)

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 hosted by Dr Peter Doran, senior lecturer in Law, at Queen’s University Belfast and Dr Amanda Slevin, director of the Centre for Sustainability, Equality and Climate Action at Queen’s.

Dr Slevin said it was “fantastic” to see young people engaging with issues relating to climate change.

“Here we’re seeing our young people grabbing the global issues, understanding what different countries need, what their issues are, and adopting those perspectives and using them to negotiate,” she said.

“So we’re seeing them embracing the wider perspectives, and also seeing the tensions and challenges that each country faces.”

Dr Amanda Slevin at the event in Belfast City Hall (Liam McBurney/PA Wire) (Liam McBurney/PA)

Leading the negotiations at Belfast City Hall were students Beth Murray and Sinead Casey from St Dominic’s Grammar School, Belfast, who shared the role of the United Nations secretary general.

Beth said: “It can affect our futures with rising sea levels and temperature, it can just affect how the world is in the future for us, and then for the future generations.”

Sinead said young people may start to feel “numb” when talking about climate change as the issue is so widely discussed.

“I think because it’s so talked about, I think people start to become numb to it almost and forget that it’s a really big deal and forget that maybe they need to do a wee bit more just to help out,” she said.

Beth added: “Some people may just believe that there’s no turning back from the point we’re at so they don’t try.”

The students said they worked to mitigate the impact of climate change at their school.

“We’re both part of the eco club in our school so have plastic bins in school and we’ve all been doing litter picking and planting trees,” Sinead said.

Beth Murray, left, with Sinead Casey from St Dominic’s Grammar School who are acting as UN secretary generals (Liam McBurney/PA Wire) (Liam McBurney/PA)

Aine Osbourne, a student from St Paul’s High School, Bessbrook, was part of the delegation for China and said taking part in the event had inspired her to research more about the challenges facing the world’s governments in the fight against climate change.

“It scares me because I love the Earth, I think it’s a beautiful place,” she said.

She added: “I think at the moment it looks like a massive brick wall, but we know we can break that down, move forward, and it’s just going to take a massive push from every country out there.”

Students representing richer, developed countries, and fossil fuel lobbying groups were given snacks and chocolate to use as currency in negotiations, while those representing less developed countries had negotiations on what they could leverage to richer nations.

Dr Selvin said the event was designed to show the students the geopolitical end of the fight against climate change.

“These events are key to transcend that focus on individual issues, we’re all part of a global system,” she said.

“And to understand our role within the system, we need to have space like this to understand what has happened around climate action globally, how we all contribute collectively through our countries, through our communities, and society.

“So, it’s a really important way to join the dots between the global and the local and to realise that, yes, individual actions are important – that’s not going to change the world.

“What’s going to change the world is change at a global level.”

Students discuss an important point at the negotiation (Liam McBurney/PA Wire) (Liam McBurney/PA)

With significant climate targets seeming farther from being reached, Dr Slevin said she was “fearful” about the future if governments did not show greater commitment to reducing emissions.

“We’re seeing conflicts already, globally, in terms of meeting the targets we were already set, so the backtracking that we see at a UK level is concerning,” she said.

“Particularly Sunak and the Tories focus on opening up new oil and gas fields, again, science tells us that we need to leave these fields unproduced.

“We can’t, in terms of our global carbon budget, open up new oil and gas fields, we need to radically transform traditional dependency on fossil fuels.

“So, we’re in this challenging time where we’re seeing vested interests being reflected in government policy, where what we need is the interests of human societies and our environments.”