Pupils from County Durham primary schools have been working with environmental experts ahead of the COP26 annual UN climate change conference.


Children aged 7 to 14 enjoyed a series of lessons, designed by Durham County Council, Outdoor and Sustainability Education Specialists (OASES) and Durham University’s Energy Institute, about tackling the causes and reducing the impacts of climate change.


Over 4,000 pupils from around the world took part in the ECO2 Smart Schools Climate Conference. Working with the council’s International Relations Team, 130 schools from 13 countries across the globe were brought together digitally to share their learning and experiences of climate change.


Cllr Mark Wilkes, the council’s Cabinet member for neighbourhoods and climate change, said: “Understanding climate change is the first step towards finding solutions and changing behaviours which negatively affect the environment. It’s great to see children so passionate about such an important subject.


“The ECO2 Smart Schools Climate Conference resources bring together experts and young people from County Durham and around the world, communicating on a global scale, which presents a fantastic opportunity for us to share knowledge and learn from each other’s experiences.


“By connecting and combining expertise, and by providing practical and engaging learning experiences, we can teach people of all ages to be environmentally smart and make positive changes to safeguard the future of our environment.”


Earlier this month, pupils participated in two virtual conferences, where they heard from Claire O’Malley, the Global Vice Chancellor from Durham University, and David Saddington, the Head of Nature Campaign from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Experts from the council and university also took part, answering hundreds of pupils’ questions.


Pupils from around the world also pledged what they were going to do to improve the quality of their local environment and voted on the key actions they would like to see undertaken by their schools, local councils, and national governments at COP26.

Professor Douglas Halliday, director of Durham Energy Institute at Durham University said: “Climate change is recognised as one of the most pressing problems facing humanity today where everyone has a role in working towards effective solutions. The ECO2 Smart Schools Climate Conference has provided Durham University with an excellent opportunity to engage with young people from across County Durham, and their international partner schools, to learn about the impact of climate change and what they can do to limit this.


“Through the lesson plans, short videos and the live question and answer session, we have been able to interact with children to motivate and inspire them to adapt and take action. Their enthusiasm, eagerness, and desire to learn was remarkable. With motivation, learning and engagement like this, we can be confident that the future will be better for all of us, and the legacy of this event will last for many years.”


Winners of a photo competition, which ran alongside the project, were announced during the conferences. Prizes were awarded to pupils from St. Joseph’s RCVA Primary School Ushaw Moor and Esh Winning Primary School, as well as schools in Romania and India.


Professional wildlife photographer Brian Matthews, and amateur photographer and council Head of Environment, Oliver Sherratt, judged the entries, which were entered in categories of Images of Concern and Images of Hope. Two Durham winners will receive an all-expenses paid trip to attend COP26 in Glasgow in November, accompanied by a family member, whilst the international school winners will receive an exciting hamper of sustainable products. All entries will be showcased in future climate change events.


Caroline Hodgson, Headteacher at Esh Winning Primary School, said: “It was absolutely fantastic for our Year 5 pupils to be involved in such a prestigious and life-influencing event. The support provided by OASES resulted in our children being even more motivated and passionate about our world and the impact of climate change. The children have been so enthusiastic about the learning, and how they can be an influential part of the change that is so desperately needed when we are talking about climate change.


“We are really proud as a school of the fact that a Year 5 pupil was announced as one of the winners of the photo competition. The Year 5 pupils are enthused and looking forward to continuing their eco journey with the school, and the wider community.”


Recordings of the two virtual conferences can be viewed on the OASES North East YouTube channel. In addition, all the lesson plans, films and learning resources from the project, can be viewed on the ECO2 Smart Schools website:  https://eco2smartschools.org.uk/eco2-cop-virtual-event/