Guest post by Miguel Angel Salinas Melgoza, a facilitator of the World Climate Exercise.
Seventeen undergraduate students learned valuable lessons through engaging in the World Climate simulation at the Escuela Nacional de Estudios Superiores-UNAM, Morelia, Mexico. World Climate is Climate Interactive’s role-playing exercise of the UN climate change negotiations. The more the students delved into the role-playing game, the better they understood the difficulties of decision-makers, realizing that the climate negotiations are not an easy task.
The students were enrolled in an undergraduate course called “Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies to Address Climate Change.” Having learned the basic climate science before participating in the simulation, the students wondered why it has been difficult for the world to reach agreement for strong, decisive climate action. World Climate allowed the students to engage more deeply and to see that evidence and willingness are not enough. They used the three-region version of the game, with C-Learn.
The students committed fully to their assigned roles, with insightful confidence growing as the game moved forward. Nicknames emerged. “Captain America” was the USA delegation. Everyone experienced a range of emotions, including hard feelings and anger toward “Captain America”. There was not only negotiation among the six groups, but also internally within each group. This drove home the importance of political realities in arriving at an international agreement. Sometimes delegates fell into an awkward silence as they realized the difficulty of coming to agreement.
During the second round of negotiations, tempers flared and the action was quite animated. There was strong demand for the USA to show more commitment and to be more ambitious in its pledges. Interestingly, the developed countries realized their diverse characteristics made arriving at a common position difficult. One student remarked “in spite of passionate discussions, the frustration of reaching dead-ends was stark.”
During the debrief, the most passionate observations came from those who represented the developing countries. They expressed how the lack of financial resources, despite having abundant natural resources, foiled their attempts to wield influence. They acknowledged that the developed and rapidly developing countries engaged each other in frequent dialogs and ignored the less developed bloc. This made the power imbalances feel real, less theoretical. The students noted the injustice of less developed countries being the resource providers for more developed economies and how they will suffer the most from the impacts of climate change.
The students gained a clear understanding that a commitment to act and set reachable goals was not enough, and that political and economic interests, including special interests, were crucial factors.
The students maintained enthusiasm throughout the simulation, showing remarkable interest in the issue of climate change and in negotiating to achieve the COP21 objectives. They learned valuable lessons that day: 1) Information and money is power. 2) The principle of shared responsibilities, but with differentiated roles regarding greenhouse gas emissions was highly relevant in the discussion. And, 3) while technology may play a leading role in addressing climate change, it is not the only way to tackle the issue. They were astonished at times, especially with the images of sea level rise. The genuine engagement of these hopeful young climate scientists, with their overwhelming willingness to address the issue, gives hope for the future.
Miguel Angel Salinas Melgoza is a PhD student in the Department of Governance and Technology for Sustainability at the University of Twente, The Netherlands. He is working on climate-smart landscape solutions for low carbon development in the dry tropical jungles of Mexico. Many thanks to Juan Antonio Reynoso Morán, who recorded the entire event and edited the footage.