Young people from Sunderland and its twin city of Essen have joined forces to help their cities achieve the joint goal of achieving carbon neutrality.

A total of 32 students from Sunderland College and Theodor-Heuss-Gymnasium School participated in a Digital Exchange this month (8 Feb) to share thoughts on climate change and how it effects the areas in which they live.

The virtual meeting – which they initially hoped would take place in person – included a workshop on climate change delivered by Kai Lipsius, head of the Green Capital Agency of the City of Essen, as well as providing attendees with a platform to have their say on how cities should distribute global carbon budgets.

The session took place as part of the ‘CLIMATE’ (Citizens’ Low-carbon Innovations for Mutual Action in Twin-cities) initiative and will be followed by a range of follow-up sessions enabling students to learn more about their own city’s approach to the climate and discuss the similarities and differences between the twin towns.

CLIMATE is an initiative led by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The state government awarded prizes to European town twinning projects within their area as part of the “Europe at home with us” competition.

The city of Essen teamed up with its twin city, Sunderland and was successful with a bid focused on “carbon dioxide reduction”, encouraging discussion on environmental topics particularly among young people and supporting them to become pioneers for environmental sustainability.

Cllr Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “This is another great example of how our  young people are actively engaged in the fight against climate change.

“It is fantastic that our long-standing partnership with Essen is creating valuable opportunities linked to this important agenda, building on its time and experience as European Green Capital.

“The climate emergency poses a fundamental threat to humanity and unless cities around the world act immediately to slash our carbon footprint, we risk not having a world to leave behind for future generations.

“That’s why initiatives such as this, which not only actively engage our young people but also share expertise and best practice with other cities across the globe are so important. We must work together to fight climate change and we must act now.”

A second workshop is now being planned for the summer and event organisers are hoping it will lead to the students finally meeting in person.

Annika Syring, an English teacher at Theodor-Heuss-Gymnasium, said: “I’m very happy that we took this first step and I think it’s a great event and a great opportunity for our students to take part in a student exchange in this way.”

The city’s participation in the CLIMATE programme follows Sunderland City Council’s pioneering approach to engaging with its young people to help lead the city’s response to the climate emergency.

The Environmental, Green, Sustainable (EGS) Group met for the first time at Sunderland College’s City Campus in October 2021 to discuss climate action and develop plans that will help the city deliver its Low Carbon Framework, which seeks to make Sunderland a carbon neutral city by 2040.

Representatives from the group – which comprises students from all areas of the city, including from primary and secondary schools, youth groups and Sunderland Youth Council, as well as students from Sunderland College and the University of Sunderland, have already shared plans with members of the city-wide Board set up to drive forward carbon reduction across Sunderland and will be meeting for the third time next month (March) to progress their plans.

For more information on Sunderland’s Low Carbon Framework and the range of activity which is underway, visit: https://www.sunderland.gov.uk/lowcarbon