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Oxford to host youth climate summit this year

Oxford City Council has announced plans to host an online youth climate summit in late autumn this year.

The plans form part of commitments made by the Council in response to last year’s Citizen’s Assembly on Climate Change, which involved people aged 16 and over.

Announced on the City Council’s website, the aim of the summit is “to co-design a platform with young climate action leaders to engage in discussion about their future, identify actions young people themselves can take, and look at how they can use their influence to find city-wide solutions to the global climate emergency.”

The summit is expected to include presentations from experts, workshops and Q&A sessions, with young Oxford residents being invited to contribute to ideas about the specific focus of the event. The statement on the Council’s website added, “The Youth Climate Summit aims to give young people a platform to discuss the issues, access to expert knowledge, and the opportunity to make their voices heard to policy makers, businesses and organisations in the city.”

The Council hopes to engage with young people from across the city, including those who have already been involved in student-led action and those who have not. Oxford City Council (OCC) expects the summit to take place in November, around the time when COP26 was expected to take place in Glasgow.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this pivotal meeting of world governments has been postponed until 2021. Organisers of the youth summit said that a physical event would not be possible this year, though rather than delaying a summit, they hope to host an online meeting instead.

The Council’s statement added that it hoped to include international voices in the summit, potentially through international aid organisations.

Councillor Tom Hayes, the City Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Zero Carbon Oxford, said “Climate breakdown can feel big, global, and overwhelming. Young people who will be most affected
by our climate crisis can particularly feel disempowered. We want Oxford’s younger citizens to take matters into their own hands, tell us how they want us to run their summit, and use the summit to share ideas and come up with fixes.”

“We want Oxford’s younger people to feel more confident having climate conversations with older generations and asking for urgent action which protects them from the brunt of a changing climate.”

Hayes added, “The United Nations may have needed to postpone their pivotal climate summit, but there can be no putting off the urgent need for climate action in 2020. The science tells us emissions must peak this year if we want to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Around the time that world leaders would have gathered in Glasgow this year to combat climate change, Oxford’s youth will unite to make a difference.”

The summit will take place a year after the release of a report from the original Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change, which took place in the autumn of 2019. The Assembly determined that Oxford should aim to achieve net-zero carbon sooner than its target of 2050, and that enhanced
biodiversity would be central to the overall vision of a future sustainable Oxford.

In 2019, Oxford witnessed some of the largest student strikes for the climate of any UK city, inspired by the Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg. In February 2019, close to 2,000 school children and students participated in a climate strike and march from Bonn Square, demanding
urgent action from the UK Government to urgently address the climate and ecological emergency.

In response, Oxford Youth Strike said “The Oxford branch of the UK Student Climate Network (OxUKSCN) —also known as Oxford Youth Strike— thanks Oxford City Council for its engagement with its youth climate activists, and for the opportunity this summit affords us. Oxford is an international city, with partners across Europe, and as far as South America and Palestine; the Climate Crisis is an international, intersectional, and terrifying issue. We welcome any attempt to work with those most affected by the Climate Crisis and to make Oxford a greener place.”

OxUSCN added, “Given the lack of action across the world since the Paris Agreement, it is encouraging that Oxford’s legislators are breaking ground, being proactive, and engaging with us and other local climate groups in a first step towards change. With the aim of getting the most out of this summit, OxUKSCN will be communicating with Oxford City Council over the coming weeks and months, every second of which counts in our fight. We hope that this summit will result in continued engagement from the Council with grassroots movements like ours, and that similar events will be held in the future.”

This article was updated at 08:56 on 24/07/20, with a response from OxUKSCN.

Max Spokes

Max (he/him) is Environment News Editor at The Oxford Blue for Michaelmas 2020. He is in his second year studying History and Politics at Balliol.