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the student activists tackling the climate crisis

Mock COP26: the young activists staging their own climate summit

After a UN summit was cancelled, young organisers stepped in to create their own, demanding action on climate change

Global leaders were due to attend UN talks in Glasgow this month to tackle the climate crisis at an event called COP26. However, the event was postponed until 2021 due to the coronavirus, which was a major blow in efforts to reduce emissions and slow the effects of climate change. 

Incredibly, a group of young activists have stepped in to help where world leaders seemingly could not and have organised Mock COP26, a virtual conference spanning 10 days that will bring together 350 young delegates from across the world to demand more action on the climate crisis and social justice. The conference will culminate in a powerful final statement to world leaders from the youth of the world which will, hopefully, lead to genuine policy change.

The conference is being organised by a young team of 18 student staff and 196 student volunteers from 52 countries. Every organiser is under 30: This is truly an event led by young people for young people. To find out more about the conference and its ambitions we spoke to 19-year-old politics student and Mock COP26 organiser, Phoebe Hanson.

Hi Phoebe, what is Mock COP26 and how did it form?

Phoebe Hanson: Mock COP26 is a virtual conference mirroring COP26, which should have started yesterday. The original conference was delayed due to coronavirus, but a bunch of young activists gathered and said we need action now. We decided to do it for ourselves. At the minute, young people are basically photo opportunities for politicians, we’re not taken seriously. Now we’re using COVID as an opportunity for young people to be taken seriously because nothing is being done by governments and leaders.

When did organising begin?

Phoebe Hanson: Back in August we started with 10 volunteers who were mainly part of Teach the Future, the campaign working to add climate education to the school curriculum. We heard that COP26 had been postponed and someone said lets make our own, which was a joke, but then we started to plan it and we now have 18 student-staff members from every continent except Antarctica. 

When does Mock COP26 start and what can we expect?

Phoebe Hanson: The event starts in 9 days, and we will be having a week of panels, talks, and regional caucuses. We have partnered with Zoom, so we have the full package to deliver these things online. We have some live sessions but some pre-recorded too so people can go to school and work but also attend Mock COP.

Around three to five delegates from each country will be delivering statements on behalf of young people from their nation outlining what they want to see, over the course of about two days, then we’re going to have a discussion online and create a collective high-level statement which will be delivered by Nigel Topping, the High Level Climate Action Champion for UN climate talks.

“If you’re not going to invite us into the room we will create the room ourselves and we will speak until you listen to us” – Phoebe Hanson, Mock COP26

Will this statement be acted on?

Phoebe Hanson: We will have a legal statement, and the support of Client Earth (a London-based organisation who “use the law to create powerful change that protects life on earth”) to develop that statement to legal treaty. We want it to be at a point where leaders can see what people want and demand after having been addressed by high level speakers and scientists. Nigel Topping will read the statement at the closing ceremony on December 1.

What is your ideal end-goal to this?

Phoebe Hanson: There are many ideal end goals, if we’re speaking literally, it would be for countries and leaders to look at our closing statement and implement it into their climate policies, and into their law. We also want for them to take young people more seriously, more than just a photo opportunity. We want to actually be listened to, and our opinions to be given the weight they deserve. We have so many delegates from the Global South, the Philippines, and we have people that are facing hurricanes and we are still not being listened to. If you’re not going to invite us into the room we will create the room ourselves and we will speak until you listen to us.

Are leaders taking any action this year at all?

Phoebe Hanson: There is a summit planned on December 12 on the anniversary of the Paris Agreement that a lot of the major players in the climate conversation are working towards to deliver their NDCs  (Nationally-Determined Contributions) that each country needs to make a step towards global carbon neutrality. They were due to announce those this year, but because COP26 is postponed, they can’t. This was supposed to be one of the most ambitious years for climate action, because we don’t have very much time left. 

What are some of the highlights to look out for at Mock COP26?

Phoebe Hanson: Keep up to date with what we’re doing on socials. There are many events you can watch live and a lot of things you can listen to and learn from. This is a good stepping stone for getting involved with human rights. Personally, a highlight for me at our event will be the Philippines activist Mitzi Jonelle Tan, she has sent us the most incredible talk about what it’s like being an activist in a country where being an activist is seen as an act of terrorism. I’d urge you to follow her on Twitter and watch her piece at Mock COP26. There’s another special guest we’re in talks with but I can’t confirm nor deny anything at this moment.

You can take a look at the event programme here.