Global Climate Conference - Day 1: Hope and Solutions

16th November 2020

The EAUC Global Climate Conference in Education started today, with over 1000 delegates enjoying the huge range of workshops and inspiring global plenary speakers.
This year, students were offered the opportunity to attend for free, a hugely positive step to make sure they are getting a say in their future and the role of education in tackling the climate crisis. Over 600 students have taken up this opportunity, and the first day of this global conference has had really stimulating and thought-provoking content.  
The first plenary this morning focused on the concept of hope, and asked panelists what they felt hope looked like in November 2020. The four varied panelists were Clover Hogan (Climate Activist and Founder, Force of Nature), Jennifer Uchendu (Founder, Sustyvibes Nigeria), Naresh Giangrande (Deep Adaptation Forum) and Caroline Hickman (Climate Psychology Alliance and University of Bath).
Responses were powerful and insightful. Clover Hogan discussed the explosion of mental health issues over the last few years, and outlined the role in which eco-anxiety played in this and how it derived from feelings of inaction and powerlessness.
In the UK last year, Clover stated 70% of 18-24 year olds reported having eco-anxiety. There tends to be common ways in which people deal with eco-anxiety; shutting down or denial. She argued that instead, people need to find that balance between optimism and blind despair and hold the tension in the middle of the two. That is the balance needed to take positive actions to tackle crises.
Jennifer Uchendu also gave a fascinating incite from Nigeria, and her time spent in the UK. Uchendu said that to overcome eco-anxiety it is important to find your voice and find spaces available to discuss emotions and feelings and have conversations that forge connections. She highlighted the interlinked nature of the climate crisis and other important issues like racism and poverty, and said it is easy to lay blame, but that it is more powerful to use all of these invoked emotions to create change. 
Naresh Giangrande also picked up on the need for us to live in a duality of thought. He described a type of ‘radical hope’ or ‘transformation adaptation’, and suggested Covid-19 had been a dress rehearsal for future crises; highlighting what really matters and showing how people have an extraordinary capacity for change. He went on to echo the balance between despair and dedication, love and radical connection – and how we must pay attention, even though it hurts, to truly be alive.
Caroline Hickman detailed how the climate crisis is a global issue, and not a personal issue, and much of the eco-anxiety experienced stems from people feeling the need to have battles alone. She described the internal and external activism needed to overcome eco-anxiety, and suggests eco-anxiety is returning rather than something new. She said there is a PTSD element for some of the older generation, who feel like they should have acted sooner. There was again a strong running theme of the balance needed between caring and with this, the pain of caring – but stressed holding tension between these too emotions is key to action. She also discussed the need for mental biodiversity as well as environmental, and how experiencing a range of emotions can give us the internal sustainability and resilience needed to navigate through crises.

Other key themes in the discussion were around how teachers must change the way they teach to show more emotion, and adults must get better at telling young people the truth. It was felt we must individually let go of the negative influences that perpetuate a dystopian vision of the world, and focus on connections and community. Education for Sustainable Development was highlighted as a key tool here.
Panelists also discussed the concept of strength and how people stay strong during crises such as the climate crisis. There was a general consensus that strength needed redefining, as strength is far broader than only positive emotions. Panelists discussed vulnerability being strength, the power of interconnectedness, and the need to not stay still or overly attach to anyone emotion, but to accept you will feel an array of emotions, and they are all important in the process of becoming more active in the push for change and betterment.
Delegates could choose from four workshops following the plenary session. This included discussions on science-based targets, sustainability initiatives in an Australian university, an outline of a new UN Environment Programme guide to reducing campus environmental impact, and a session on anxiety and sustainability in Higher Education.
The afternoon’s plenary session started with a rousing address from HRH Prince of Wales, who stated there was a need for immediate action to tackle the climate crisis. He emphasised the value of nature, and how we needed to rethink value in other ways than purely economic. He suggested we should build the economy around the wealth of nature, and reinstate natures unique ability to sustain itself and us. He also called on sectors to produce net zero road maps to make sure we reach net zero as soon as possible. 
Following on from this, the next plenary looked at the concept of ‘the future now’ - what should we all collectively do to reset the socio-economic environment for a more sustainable and inclusive future? Panelists included Caplor Horizon’s Ian Williams and Dan Bishop, Jamie Beck Alexander (Project Drawdown), Alastair Driver (Rewilding Britain) and Elouise Mayall, a student at University of East Anglia and co-ordinator for the UK’s first Local Conference of Youth (LCOY).
The session looked at the concept of the second curve, and how we shouldn’t wait for decline before we act – with obvious parallels to the climate crisis.

Jamie Beck Alexander eloquently outlined how globally we have not been solutions orientated enough when it comes to the climate crisis. She asked delegates to think about what comes to mind when they think of climate change and global warming, before revealing research showed that when asked this question, 44% of people talk about the impacts of climate change, 18% think about the cause of climate change, but only 3% think about solutions to the climate change. A presentation about where GHG emissions come from, and where they go, was followed by a discussion on real solutions to the issues. Beck Alexander concluded by stating that while no one can do it all, we all have the opportunity to show up and contribute as change agents. 
Professor Alistair Driver input with solutions based on rewilding, a concept that means large scale restoration of ecosystems to the point where nature is allowed to take care of itself. Professor Driver explained that rewilding was a spectrum of activity, and we need more aspirational government policy to push for more rewilding in the UK. Currently the UK is aiming to rewild 5% of its land, but if it were to restore 30%, that would achieve 60 million tons of CO2 sequestration a year, which is equivalent to 13.5% of current UK emissions. But there was also a warning, as rewilding cannot mean simply implement new systems, there must be thought about how to support existing systems first – for example the Government’s plan to plant new trees should instead focus on supporting natural regeneration of trees first and foremost.
Student Elouise gave useful and relevant thoughts on each of the presentations, providing a youth perspective. She concluded that she is hopeful there are solutions, and is excited to hear more. 
The final plenary was followed by the choice between 8 more workshops, with topics ranging from the Uni Green Scheme to conscious consumerism. Rounding up the day was a Leadership Roundtable that asked delegates what formal education needs to do to ensure students are getting the skills they need to ‘build back better’. 
This has been only day one of the five-day conference, and we look forward to seeing what else there is to come in the jam-packed agenda! Delegates will have access to the recordings of plenaries for 30 days on the conference platform.
Global Climate Conference - Day 1: Hope and Solutions image #1