Held in Glasgow, UK, COP26 aimed to respond to the climate emergency our planet is facing — from the increase in extreme weather events, to how our cities cope with polluting vehicles, and how we achieve net zero. At EngineeringUK, we are clear that these are not just issues for policymakers and activists — we need engineers and scientists to help come up with solutions, too. The Schools COP gave the engineering community an opportunity to speak with one voice about the importance of engineering in tackling climate change. Recent evidence shows that young people who agree that engineers are important for improving the environment were seven times more likely to be interested in a career that involved engineering (helloworld.cc/engineeringuk2021).
Creating a satisfying summit
Armed with that knowledge, we invited schools and youth groups to be climate change ambassadors and take part in our summit — the UK’s first Schools COP. The discussion was hosted by STEM champion and broadcaster Fayon Dixon and former BBC newsreader Susan Bookbinder. There were four breakout rooms mirroring the topics being debated at the main COP26. The topics covered were:
Youth and public involvement
Science and innovation
Nature, cities, regions, and the built environment
Climate crisis and me
The summit also featured two inspiring talks from Jaz Rabadia MBE and Thaddeus Anim-Somuah. Jaz is an energy manager who helps businesses to reduce the amount of energy they use and lower their carbon footprint. Thaddeus is a chemical engineer who leads his company’s commitment to sustainability, which includes a target of reducing carbon emissions by 25 percent between 2018 and 2024. Students had the chance to ask Jaz and Thaddeus questions and discover how engineers are at the heart of solutions to achieve net zero by 2050.
At the summit, we heard from 70 students from 30 schools across the UK about what they feel they can do as young people, how they can make changes to their own behaviours, and what issues were the most alarming for them, as well as the all-important conversation about how engineering, science, and innovation can help achieve net zero. Their passion and enthusiasm to achieve change were remarkable — and their knowledge about the climate emergency was humbling.
Fizzing with ideas
There were so many amazing ideas that came through. Some link up with technologies currently being explored, such as ocean fertilisation to improve carbon capture by marine plants. Other brilliant suggestions for tackling climate change made by the students included:
Better recycling of plastics, and using biopolymers to create plastics that are less harmful to the environment
Promoting positive practices and educating young people through social media and advertising
Developing self-sufficient agri-biomes for animal farming, to capture methane to be converted into energy sources
Investment in new energy sources to improve new buildings and retrofit onto older ones, and planting more trees to increase biodiversity
For those who missed out on the live event, the session was recorded (helloworld.cc/copvideo) and released alongside a lesson plan for teachers to use in personal, social, health, and citizenship education (PSHCE), careers, geography, or science lessons (helloworld.cc/coplesson). Over 300 schools watched the broadcast on demand and over 33,000 students took part, with over 75 percent of teachers saying it inspired students to consider a career in engineering.
Tomorrow’s Engineers Week returns for its tenth anniversary in 2022 — sign up to our mailing list now at helloworld.cc/temail to hear when more plans are announced.
Questions for students to consider
Try out these engaging questions to start discussions with small groups about sustainability and future engineering careers:
What kind of things could you be working on as an engineer in ten years’ time to help reduce the impact of climate change?
What skills will we need as a workforce to tackle climate change and achieve net zero?
What inventions do you think could help achieve net zero?
What is stopping us from creating ideas that will achieve net zero?
You can find more discussion questions at helloworld.cc/coplesson.
Try out this Schools COP activity
Explain to students that COP26 had a variety of goals to achieve (you can find a summary at helloworld.cc/cop26).
Split students into four groups and ask them to consider the following questions about how their future jobs could help to achieve these goals:
Group One: What can you do to tackle climate change in your future career?
Group Two: What can your school or local community do to tackle climate change?
Group Three: What can your country do to tackle climate change?
Group Four: What engineering solutions do you think could tackle climate change?
You can find more lesson ideas at helloworld.cc/coplesson.