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GEMS SCOPE 2023 Climate Conference Adds Voices of Students and Educators to Wider COP28 Discourse

by Eddie Rayner

Guests from around the world joined GEMS Education school leaders, educators, and students recently for a special climate conference held as part of the fourth edition of the School Conference of Parties Exposition (SCOPE) hosted by GEMS Legacy School in Dubai.

The SCOPE 2023 Climate Conference, entitled ‘SustainXchange: Dialogues for a Resilient Planet’, was the showpiece of the now annual SCOPE event first launched by GEMS Education in 2020.

A celebration of student agency against climate change, SCOPE brings together pupils from across the UAE as well as educators, including UN-certified Climate Change Teachers and prominent guest speakers.

Purposefully coinciding with COP28, SCOPE added a much-needed youthful and educational perspective and voice to the climate change summit being held at the Expo 2020 site in Dubai.

Fourth School Conference of Parties Exposition hosted by GEMS Legacy School

Asha Alexander, Executive Leader – Climate Change at GEMS Education and Principal/CEO of GEMS Legacy School, delivered the conference’s opening address, saying: “The UAE has firmly placed climate education at the heart of its strategy, and GEMS Education has aligned its vision with that of the Ministry of Education. Through our bold practices, behaviours and attitudes, we must shape the world of the future. We can and we must.

“Let us not live in our insulated bubbles of privilege, assuming climate change will not knock on our doors. Because it will. By placing young voices at the heart of this conversation, the UAE has set in motion the wheels of change, and we need to grasp this opportunity with both hands and lead the way forward.”

The event’s keynote speaker was Angus Mackay, Director of the Division for Planet and Manager of the Climate Change Programme at UNITAR, whose speech was on the subject of ‘Unlocking knowledge: The impact of the UN CC:Learn courses’.

“The world has come alive to the issue of the climate crisis. We have a global climate change consciousness today, and this shows the power of the world coming together,” said Mr Mackay. “Through the work that GEMS has been doing, you’ve become a hub for climate change literacy. So, my message to you is to congratulate you for standing up and making a difference.”

The event included speeches by high-profile speakers from UNITAR and Race4Good

But it was six-year-old GEMS Legacy School kindergarten students Muneer Mohamed Rashid Saad and Eeshvi Lama Gurung who stole the show. “Do you know that as per the scientists, by 2030 climate change will be irreversible?” asked Eeshvi. “I wonder, when we grow up, will we still have a good earth to live on?” “It is frightening to even think about it,” replied Muneer.

Both were joined by Michelle Liz Dennis, a GEMS Legacy School student in Grade 7, who asked the adults in the audience: “The pressing question is, how much longer will we delay action? Is this the future you leave for us?”

Taking to the stage, too, was Linda Cruse, International Humanitarian, Author, Speaker, and Founder of the service, leadership, and entrepreneurship programme Race4Good. Ms Cruse gave a rousing talk on the subject of ‘Leadership in Bloom: Nurturing Tomorrow’s Sustainability Champions’.

Ms Cruse said: “When we understand and start to care, we start to take action. We come with nothing, and we go with nothing. At the end of the day, all we have is our story. So, don’t look for heroes, be one.”

Also in attendance was Toby Gregory, Founder of the Plastic Pledge, Founder and Project Director of the Arabian Ocean Rowing Team, and a communications and strategy consultant, as well as a delegation from Italy, representing Istituto Comprensivo di Cappella Maggiore, the GEMS Hub School for Sustainability in Italy, established by Ms Alexander.

Students voiced their concerns and hoped for urgent action to combat climate change

SCOPE is the brainchild of Ms Alexander, who, having represented GEMS and the UAE at COP25 in Madrid and observed that schools and education were at the peripherals of COP, set out to create a space where young people could share ideas, perspectives, and actions on climate change.

Over the years, SCOPE has seen the voices of its participating youth get stronger and louder as more and more young people rightly claim their role as important players in the global climate change policymaking process.

The first SCOPE was held virtually in October 2020, involving students from schools across the world. The event empowered participants with high levels of climate change awareness, deep climate change research, and collaborative global problem-solving skills.