'COP26 and how Highgate School is tackling environmental challenges'

Diarmuid McDonald

Mock COP26 conference held at Highgate School - Credit: Diarmuid McDonald

Last week, Highgate School hosted a mock COP26 conference — a role-play version of the real event in Glasgow.

It was a brilliant event and we all learned so much about the issues affecting each country.

Pupils from five north London schools took part: Highgate, London Academy of Excellence, Stratford, London Academy of Excellence, Tottenham, Ackland Burley and Highgate Wood.

Students played 12 countries in mixed teams. Three pupils from other schools and I had coal-loving Australia — what a challenge!

As well as official positions in Glasgow, we learned about the processes involved in the real event and the need for compromise, and how hard it is to get practical action.

The mock COP gave a "better understanding of the complexities each country faces in increasing their climate action", according to Stephanie from LAES, as well as "the importance of collaboration internationally in tackling issues more effectively".

As well as hosting this mock conference, in October, I also went with a Highgate team to another mock COP organised by the London Schools Eco Network (LSEN).

Gabriel, Year 11, Highgate School

Highgate School Year 11 student Gabriel is proud of what he and his school has done to promote understanding of environment issues - Credit: Diarmuid McDonald

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Highgate even contributed indirectly to the real COP26. Highgate student Finley had "an amazing opportunity", working remotely with a group of students across the UK on research sent to the UK Schools Sustainability Network delegation in Glasgow.

As well as these exciting events, we’ve had several assemblies about COP26 Glasgow, and special talks for the geography and Masaryk (politics) societies.

But, concern for the environment is nothing new at Highgate, which has worked with other schools across London, and pre-Covid-19 organised the first inter-school climate conference.

Students and staff at Highgate have a longstanding, vibrant and growing environment committee, which has campaigned successfully in the school and outside it. Amongst the committee’s many achievements over the last few years, is the Meat Free Monday campaign, which has reduced meat consumption, elimination of paper water cups (mandating the use of re-usable bottles), reductions in printing and paper waste, and introduction of new electric buses on the 214 route, used by many pupils.

For  me, the motivation for being involved is the chance to find and implement practical ways that we can all play our part, to make it feel like an achievable goal, rather than an insurmountable problem and I am proud of the amount both that I have done, and of what we as a school have done to promote understanding of environment issues and change in the school – and that the "tireless" and "avid" commitment is "appreciated by the whole school (and by the planet too!)", as one teacher wrote.

The COP26 activities really boosted important environment conversations, showing how action is important – but also how complex problems are and how hard it is to get solutions.

But, without doubt, students from Highgate are passionate and motivated – and have inspired others, as Jabiah, a student from LAET said, after the mock COP: "It’s really encouraged me to do more at my own school in the environment committee."

Gabriel is a Year 11 student at Highgate School