UCL: UCL stages its first Youth COP climate summit

Students from across UCL have agreed seven resolutions to tackle climate change after a marathon event emulating proceedings at the UN COP26 summit starting in Glasgow next week.

Zoom screen with Youth COP participants
The model COP26, organised by the Sustainable UCL team as part of the university’s Generation One climate action campaign, enabled students to learn more about climate and biodiversity issues and explore the complex financial, geopolitical and diplomatic tensions and constraints that negotiators will have to overcome to achieve legally binding agreements that countries are prepared to sign up to.

The day-long online event was chaired by UCL Student Union Sustainability Officer Johara Meyer, who urged participants to “argue, argue, argue because this is the issue of our lives.”

70 students formed 12 delegations to represent the UK, Sweden, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, USA, Alliance of Small Island States, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, UNHCR, Greenpeace, the IMF and Shell Global to devise, present and vote on final resolutions.

Before getting round the table, the groups heard from former UN Environment Chief Scientist and former Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, Professor Jacqueline McGlade (UCL Institute for Global Prosperity), a long-standing participant in COP summits.

Her advice to negotiators was to be clear about their best-case outcome, not put everything on the table at once and “to have a backup position too”. Professor McGlade warned they should stand their ground, but also put themselves in other people’s shoes and think from different perspectives. She said:

“Be resilient, be stoic and stick to what you know, but be prepared to tell your story and describe what you know in different ways. When you’re negotiating with others you have to do your research and think, what’s their world like, how can I help them come over?”

Students also listened to an address from the Executive Director of the Climate Action Society, Zi Han Xuan, who emphasised that individual actions and mobilising people across the planet in a collective movement are as important as holding politicians to account.

Over the next six hours, the teams mapped out their negotiating strategies and ways to convince other teams to vote for their preferred resolutions, with four negotiating rounds.

Students from UCL’s United Nations Association Society, Climate Action Society and Green Economy Society acted as facilitators, ensuring conversations were inclusive. A student rapporteur added authenticity and drama to the day, with news headlines reflecting the tensions and heated debates, e.g., between corporates and those on the front line of climate change impacts.

As proceedings ran down to the wire, the seven ambitious resolutions finally passed were:

Resolution 1: Annex 1 Parties (industrialised nations) must raise the minimum $100 billion per year (contribution to support net zero in lower- and middle-income countries) and should establish mechanisms to scale up funding to reach a total of $300 billion per year by 2050, among other things by tapping into the worldwide pool of private finance, to help less developed countries in their fight against climate change.
Resolution 2: Annex I countries should commit to net zero emissions by 2050, non-Annex I countries should commit to net zero emissions by 2060.​
Resolution 3: We should give protected status to 30% of natural areas to avoid future destruction. Especially unique areas that are of high importance to the global ecosystem and carbon system should be protected, such as mangroves, the arctic, the rainforests, and sea kelp forests
Resolution 4: Coal must be phased out by 2030 for Annex I, by 2040 for other major emitters, and by 2050 for the rest of the world.
Resolution 5: All countries should adopt India’s ambition: transition towards electric vehicles in a gradual manner with an interim target of 30% electrification of all new vehicles sold by 2030. Further transition to ZEVs (zero emissions vehicles) should be market led.
Resolution 6:​ All countries should determine their own path towards sustainable farming practices
Resolution 7: All countries must allow people fleeing from natural disasters, environmental degradation, and sea level rise to enter their countries and make their new homes there.
Professor Jacqui McGlade was invited to respond to the resolutions, along with three other members of UCL’s team of observers who will be representing the university at COP26 – Professor Rodney Harrison (Institute of Archaeology), Dr Jerome Lewis (UCL Anthropology) and Robbie Mallett (UCL Earth Sciences).

They commended the resolutions, in particular for their focus on “the extinction crisis” as much as the climate crisis, and their humanitarian stance on immigration. Resolution 7 on the rights of migrants was highlighted though as an example of the beauty of “policy without the politics” versus the reality for politicians who want to be re-elected to see positive changes through.

Resolution 6 drew the strongest response, with Professor Jacquelinei McGlade suggesting the delegates should have been braver and experience showing that countries cannot be left to their own devices on an issue as fundamental as the impact of farming on climate.

UCL’s first Youth COP succeeded across the board as students experimented with negotiation tactics and styles, navigating a series of political, cultural, commercial, financial and diplomatic obstacles.

Chair and UCL Student Officer Johara Meyer reflected: “COP26 isn’t the end, it’s one part of this process – potentially not even the one that’s going to have the biggest impact – and we’re going to have to continue fighting for that.”

There was a strong takeaway too from Professor Jacqueline McGlade, who further demystified the process of arriving at global agreements by emphasising the critical input that academics will provide in Glasgow as the fortnight unfolds:

“The role of scientists and researchers at COP26 will be to help politicians join the dots, because climate change is not one single issue, it’s diffuse and touches absolutely every single thing that we do. Whether it’s the food we eat, the transport we use, energy, how much water there is, the land and how we use it.

“Sometimes you can find places where politicians, who are under a lot of pressure, can be given another avenue where, if you’re smart, they can contribute to the climate change challenge. It’s not selling out, it’s helping people find their way through their own complexity. Complexity is what this is all about.”

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