By Miguel Trenkel-Lopez, Director of Curieus Games, a company aimed at inspiring the next generation towards STEM.


With each year bringing new record temperatures, extreme weather events, and unmistakable signs of ecological distress, it is clear that action is required to tackle climate change.

Tackling climate change is a battle on multiple fronts – we need to completely transform how we generate energy, produce our food, transport both goods and people and manufacture products. This transformation will require hundreds of thousands of engineers and scientists who can help shape a sustainable future, however, there is currently a shortage of skilled workers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The British Science Association (BSA)’s recent Future Forum report found that young people chose climate change as their top concern in terms of the impact it will have on their future lives, however only 1 in 4 (23%) felt ‘very informed’ about climate change; worryingly, this fell to 1 in 14 (7%) for 14-year-olds.

I am writing this blog piece as an exhibitor at the upcoming British Science Festival with Megawatt, a STEM card game that teaches about energy and climate change, and to share my experiences as a youth advocate at the previous Conference of Parties (COP).

In December this year, the 28th Conference of Parties will take place in Dubai. This global climate conference brings together all the world's nations to address the climate crisis and try to agree on collective action. The Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement are two examples of positive outcomes from previous COPs. I was very fortunate to be involved in a leadership capacity at COP26 in Scotland, COP27 in Egypt and will also be travelling to Dubai for COP28 through my volunteer work with Nuclear 4 Climate, a grassroots organisation advocating for nuclear energy to be considered as part of the climate solution.

In this blog, I delve into what I learned at COP, and why I believe engaging with the next generation is key to developing successful climate and clean energy policies, giving young people the confidence and the platform to tackle environmental challenges. 

My experience of COP26 as a youth advocate

I had spent the 15 months before COP26 volunteering alongside a fantastic team, working on evenings and weekends with people I had never met in person. Meeting at the conference and seeing our hard work come to fruition was a really proud moment for us. Our plans were ambitious, but we pulled it off!

The privilege, excitement and drama of being involved in such an important conference was intense. The conference starts off with a world leaders’ summit where over 150 world leaders gathered. I was blown away by the confidence of some of my team who would approach the President of a country, surrounded by cameras and security, and engage them in conversation! You quickly acclimatise to seeing familiar faces, and within just a few days I was regularly conversing with anyone and everyone.

At times, it felt like we could actually make a difference and positively influence policy at the highest level. At other times, I felt helpless, a distraction for negotiators on their way to meetings with real consequences for millions of people around the world.

The youth advocate team at COP26
Pictured: The team of youth advocate volunteers at COP26

Over the two weeks, I learnt a lot about how COP works, and sometimes how it doesn’t work. There would often be a sense of frustration among delegates and countries at the speed of change and the difficulty of consensus. Conflicting priorities and vested interests often got in the way of unanimous agreement.

Nuclear energy can also be a divisive topic. While the science is clear that nuclear is needed for net zero, the story of nuclear power evokes strong emotions. It took a lot of energy and courage to be the face of nuclear. What hurt the most was when people would question our integrity and intentions. As unpaid volunteers passionate about solving climate change, working for over a year on evenings and weekends, these interactions sometimes took an emotional toll.

It was great to see a lot of young people at the conference, and there was even a whole thematic day focusing on youth and public empowerment. Throughout the conference, there were a number of impactful protests and actions led by young people and minority groups such as indigenous communities. Despite this, when it came to the actual negotiators and decision-makers, it was made up of the usual crowd of middle-aged men in suits. I just hope they took the time to listen.

Flashmob at COP26
Pictured: Flashmob at COP26

The power of youth voice

My biggest takeaway from attending COP26 was this: when young, passionate people are given a genuine opportunity to lead, there is no rival to their enthusiasm and drive. The team of young professionals we assembled for COP26 was the most exciting group of people I have ever worked with and I was blown away by their passion, diligence and hard work. We were sometimes told that our ideas were too bold, risky, or unfeasible, but we had the courage and belief to go ahead with them anyway – and we pulled it off! With a flash mob, bright blue t-shirts, an inspiring message and a 3m high inflatable gummy bear, we made a genuine impact at COP26.

Nadhim Zahawi with giant gummy bear

Pictured: Nadhim Zahawi with the giant gummy bear

Why do I mention this? The changes needed to mitigate climate change must also be bold, ambitious, and perhaps seem unfeasible – so involving young people is essential for success. It’s so important that we harness the power of youth and give them opportunities to lead today. Leadership shouldn’t be about accumulating years of experience and ‘waiting your turn’ – true leadership emerges from challenging the status quo, voicing new ideas and inspiring others to take action. Why should there be a minimum age for this?

Take a minute to consider whether your place of work supports young people to gain leadership skills, and if there are any steps or actions you could take today to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers to take on the challenge to shape a sustainable future for all.

Megawatt and the British Science Festival 

In September 2023, Megawatt will be exhibiting at the British Science Festival. As a not-for-profit organisation, our mission is to inspire curiosity in sustainable energy and help develop the problem solvers of the future.

Designed for the classroom and based on real-world data, Megawatt brings the topic of energy to life like never before, with beautiful artwork and clever game mechanics. It meets curriculum requirements on energy topics, while also providing great career guidance by linking curriculum to careers. We do this through in-class discussions or a talk where I share my career journey to date which includes flying drones, working in government on energy policy, developing Megawatt and attending COP.

Through these activities, I hope to help inspire the next generation that a career in energy is for them. If you’d like to find out more about Megawatt, come visit our stand at the British Science Festival, check out our website or get in touch!

Visit the Megawatt event at the British Science Festival

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