This week, I had the opportunity to engage in a Mock United Nations Climate Change Negotiations with my Climate Change and Society class at Emory. The goal of the simulation was to imitate the discussions between the United States, the European Union, China, India, and other developed and developing countries as we attempted to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. The simulation was particularly timely because we are nearing the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) this November.

Students represented various delegates to the COP of the UNFCCC during the simulation / Dr. Eri Saikawa

The part of the negotiations I found most difficult to overcome was the expectation that other countries would put in the effort necessary to combat climate change. Climate change is a global issue, and it doesn’t have boundaries; rather, it affects all countries and people regardless of international perimeters.

Despite this, many countries limited their contributions towards the UNFCCC’s goal because they expected others to step up. Yet, when every country does this, there is no positive change or tangible action that takes place.

I, too, found myself guilty of this false expectation as a representative of India during the simulation. India’s main focus is to uplift its people out of poverty, and in general, its leaders are happy to help in the fight against climate change given that other, more developed countries fund the efforts. As such, the other delegate from India and I requested $10 billion from the UNFCCC’s Green Climate Fund without contributing to the funds at all, and we wrongly expected other countries to give us what we needed. My country understood the importance of reducing carbon emissions but did not want to start doing so until other countries acted first. Similarly, the delegates from China refused to agree to a partnership when the United States offered to match funds for climate change mitigation to support other developing countries in China funded India.

Still, other negotiations went well. I was surprised when the delegates from New Zealand approached me. New Zealand is already working towards 90% renewable energy, and it agreed to provide India with the technology transfers necessary for us to raise our annual reduction rate of carbon dioxide to 2 degrees Celsius.

I played the role of a delegate to India during the simulation / Dr. Eri Saikawa

Additionally, the negotiations made me realize how interdisciplinary the issue of climate change is. While I conducted a great deal of background research and it was easy for me to estimate decisions on behalf of India, I ultimately recognized that I was still missing so much information and background knowledge to make the best possible choices.

Sure, I could easily say during the simulation that India pledges to begin emissions reductions by the year 2040 and reduce deforestation by 30 percent. But there are still so many unanswered questions. Where will India get the funds to take these actions? Is the UNFCCC’s Green Climate Fund large enough to support India as well as other countries? Does the country have the technology capabilities necessary to do so? How will we scientifically generate reports to track our progress? Are India’s citizens even in support of the cause?

It was difficult to come to a consensus in order to reach our goal / Dr. Eri Saikawa

During the conference, fossil fuel lobbyists also attempted to convince delegates to invest in carbon sequestration technology rather than renewable energy technology, while climate activists advocated for each country to step up and take larger strides in their efforts. Our class ultimately reached our goal to create plans that would limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, and afterwards, journalists even held a press conference to ask countries how they will carry out their plans. Overall, the simulation was a valuable way to learn what various nations consider when making climate change decisions, but it also made me more cognizant of how complex and global the issue of climate change really is.

To learn more about the research I did to play the role of a delegate for India, see my infographic and read my blog post, “India’s Stance on Climate Change.”

Want to learn more about the upcoming negotiations in November? Follow the negotiations in Bonn, Germany here.



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