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Blog Post 5 November 2021

Engaging youth with the climate emergency at COP26 and beyond

The first week of the global climate conference COP26 is almost over. But on the first Friday of the event – 5 November – delegates will focus on youth and public empowerment, demonstrating the critical role of empowering, educating and training these groups to help drive climate action.

There are four major themes that will be addressed during today’s discussions, which are detailed in the Youth4Climate manifesto:

  1. Youth driving ambition.
  2. Sustainable recovery.
  3. Non-state actors’ engagement.
  4. Climate-conscious society. 

Considering how the opinions and voices of young people can be elevated is one of the most important factors in achieving positive climate action. At Energy Saving Trust, we wanted to reflect on what we are doing in this area.

One particular example is the work of the Energy Saving Trust Foundation, which aims to educate and inspire communities to increase their energy savings and make sustainable, energy efficient choices that will help address the climate emergency. To achieve this, the Foundation will work with the education sector to support the transition to a net zero society.

The role of education in climate action

Education has an important role in influencing young and future generations, as well as facilitating intergenerational dialogue, helping to achieve a climate-conscious society. The recommendations from the 400 youth participants at COP26 are detailed in the Youth4Climate manifesto and will be discussed across several events and panels at COP26.

The education sector is huge, ranging from pre-school to postgraduate level, but by focusing on school education in particular, the sector offers a direct route into the heart of local communities. The Foundation is currently working on one of several planned schools’ campaigns over the next few months, which means we can not only engage with school students on climate issues, but we can also reach their families and friends – helping to achieve that all important public empowerment in climate action.

Switch Off Fortnight campaign

One important campaign that is about to launch is Switch Off Fortnight, run in partnership with the Pod. Using the Pod’s network of over 20,000 schools across the UK, the Foundation is reaching out to schools and their communities to educate them on energy saving measures and encourage them to take action. 

Switch Off Fortnight is a nationwide campaign that will take place from 8-21 November 2021 to encourage schools to switch off lights and electrical appliances when not in use for two weeks. Through providing real-life learning opportunities, the campaign’s key goals are to help schools save energy and monitor the impact of changing user behaviour on the school’s energy use.

If you want to find out more about the campaign or are interested in joining, it’s not too late to sign up!

Sign up today

We spoke to four teachers at participating schools in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England, who all echoed the importance of real-world learning.

What is your motivation for taking part in Switch Off Fortnight this year – and what do you hope to achieve?

Amanda Mee, Dunbeath Primary School: “We have taken part in several previous campaigns, and it has always proved popular with our pupils. They have found it interesting and motivating to find out how much energy is being used or saved.

“We are also now working towards our Green Flag Award and our ECO committee thought this would be of great benefit to our work towards our Green Flag, as it supported us towards our bronze and silver awards previously. We hope to raise awareness among those within school and at home about climate energy.”

Anne Connolly, St Dominic’s Grammar School for Girls: “We want to raise pupils’ awareness of the need to care for their environment, as we explore this topic as part of their KS3 Religious education course. We want to show that care for the environment is an international priority and hope to encourage pupils to suggest and complete simple acts to reduce their carbon footprint.”

Jacqueline McGuire, Calderwood Primary School: “Our class is the school Eco Leadership Group, responsible for promoting the reduction of waste and aiming to make the school and home environment more sustainable. They are currently studying Climate Change and COP26, so it’s particularly relevant for them this year, as they can see all the COP26 preparations happening around Glasgow.

“By joining Switch Off Fortnight again this year, they hope to make a difference in the amount of energy that we consume, which in return should reduce our carbon imprint and emissions.”

Carmel Keigher, Downderry Primary School: “Our motivation for taking part in Switch Off Fortnight is because we are a school that is committed to the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development, including SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption) and SDG13 (Climate Action).

“Our School Development Plan for this year prioritises the promotion of our pupil’s personal development through our Global Citizenship objectives and the establishment of the Downderry Goodwill Ambassadors, including the Climate Changemakers; a group of children from KS1 and KS2 who will be managing Switch Off Fortnight at Downderry. Our children will be learning about the COP26 Milan summit, which will inspire them to make a difference during this year’s campaign.”

Do you think real-world learning is likely to encourage your students to positively change their behaviours?

Amanda Mee: “Yes, because it enables children to develop a passion or interest for something. They can make a positive difference to the world and ultimately, they may turn this into a successful career in the future.”

Anne Connolly: “Yes, it encourages pupils who already have a desire to act providing them with practical steps they can undertake to make a difference to their environment and encouraging them to be creative in finding solutions.”

Jacqueline McGuire: “Through previous participation in the campaign, I have seen the change that pupils made in their behaviour towards energy use in school and at home. The opportunity for real-world learning makes the process meaningful for them and gives them ownership of the campaign, motivating them to encourage others to join in the campaign and make a difference.”

Carmel Keigher: “Absolutely yes! I do think that real-life and experiential learning can have nothing but a positive impact on how our pupils behave toward their planet and environment.”

With this year’s Switch Off Fortnight coinciding with COP26, why do you think it’s helpful for students to see the real difference they can make to addressing climate change by saving energy and ‘switching off’?

Amanda Mee: “It enables them to see the link with their future. How offsetting or neutralising emissions by planting trees, for example (we have ordered tree packs from the Woodland Trust to demonstrate this and make this link). By talking about the steps they take now (such as using less energy at home or school, walking or cycling, reducing food waste), they can understand how this will enable net zero in the future. Children are tomorrow’s voices; they can make a difference.”

Anne Connolly: “Pupils are very aware of the injustice of adults not acting to protect the environment for their generation. It gives them an opportunity to have their voices heard at the COP26 summit and to realise that they can lobby to effect change. It encourages them to think of politics as a process they can be involved in.”

Jacqueline McGuire: “Through their cross-curricular studies, the pupils can see the damage climate change is having on the planet and the subsequent consequences for humans, animals and plants. They are very eager to find ways in which they can make a difference and play their part in reducing their emissions through a reduction in energy use. By participating in Switch Off Fortnight, they can ensure they play their part in reducing their energy consumption. They will be able to take this message home and to the wider community.”

Carmel Keigher: “It is incredibly helpful for students to see the difference they can make by having an active role in helping the environment. Seeing the difference it makes to our bills at school will inspire them to make changes elsewhere in their lives. Giving children the opportunity to see and experience these changes at a young age will hopefully ensure that they carry this awareness with them into adult life.”

Head to our Climate talk at COP26 hub to keep up to date with the latest news and announcements from the climate conference.

Last updated: 5 November 2021