The energy of youth has been harnessed on Teesside to tackle climate change as the country sweltered on one of the hottest days of the year.
Around 150 children from across the Tees Valley came together for the first ever climate conference organised by the charity The Junction Foundation.
Six months in the making, the event, staged at Redcar and Cleveland College, was organised by the Junction Heart Group, a youth section of the charity, after securing funding from the National Lottery Community Fund Climate Action Fund.
It also won the backing of NLCF, the EMR Group, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland College and Sofia Offshore Windfarm, as well as workshop providers Redcar and Cleveland Council, the Woodstone Foundation, Thirteen Housing, Middlesbrough Environment City, Grassroots Music, Tees Valley Nature Partnership, Culture Declares Emergency and Yorkshire Energy Doctor.
The conference featured a wide range of interactive workshops covering the science behind climate change, the impact on nature, waste and recycling, energy saving and climate change activism.
At the end of the day young delegates highlighted their priorities and made a pledge to do something locally that would make a lasting difference. These included action to protect nature and the natural environment, saving energy and more involvement from young people in response to climate change.
The Junction Foundation provides a range of holistic support for children and young people aged five to 25 years.
Its chief executive Beth Major said: “We may feel that we can’t influence national and global decision making on climate change but we can do something locally that will make a lasting difference. This is just the start and exciting things are already happening in our area which will impact the environment positively.”
Young people’s views will now be collated into a report that will be sent to a range of local and national authorities and organisations, as well as form the basis of a powerful social media campaign.
One of the organisers, Mia Morris, 18, of Redcar, said: “This is something that affects everyone’s life. You can’t avoid this issue, you can’t escape the climate.
“The recent 40 degree heatwave seemed to come out of nowhere but makes me wonder what will happen next year. Things will only get worse unless we do something about it. We only have one climate. We can’t just trade it in for another. I was working in a restaurant during the heatwave and it was horrific.
“In this country we are not equipped for hot weather. Our houses are designed to keep the heat in and they certainly can’t cope with 40 degrees.
“The important thing about our conference today is that it gives young people a voice in an area where they aren’t heard enough. This is not the end of it.”
Eddie Dolphin, 11, of Saltburn added: “I am worried about climate change, the higher temperatures, the melting icecaps, the rising sea level, particularly as I live at the coast. Governments around the world do a lot of talking but don’t seem to do anything and I think they should be listening to young people who will be affected the most.”
Young people heard from Redcar and Cleveland Council’s assistant director of climate change Chris Moon.
He told them: “Everything we do, big or small, emits carbon dioxide. The build-up of these gases in the atmosphere stops the sun’s heat escaping which threatens life on earth. The ice caps melt, sea levels rise and habitats change. This leads to heatwaves, affects crops growing which puts prices up and can lead to starvation.”
As an example he said one 18-year-old driver released 1.5 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, which was a big problem. Globally 27,000 trees a day were cut down just to make toilet roll.
“But everything we do can be done differently to reverse the effects we are having on our planet, if we all do our bit,” he said. “Turn the heating down one degree, spend one minute less in the shower, only boil the amount of water you need in the kettle and turn off the TV at the wall. Do that and the people in this room would save 43 tons of carbon a year, which equates to 341,000 tons of CO2 across the Tees Valley. Just little tweaks to the way we live our lives can help the future of the planet ”
The Junction trustee Shaun Hogg added: “I’m so surprised with how connected young people are to the climate change cause and it is great to see them giving their time to this wonderful event.”