State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Under Pressure, a (Simulated) Climate Agreement

Students from around the world sat down in Paris to try to hash out a climate agreement in a simulation of the upcoming UN talks in December.
Students from around the world sat down in Paris to try to hash out a climate agreement in a simulation of the upcoming UN talks in December.

By Logan Brenner

Coming up with an international climate agreement is hard work. But the students at the Make It Work simulated negotiations in Paris managed to find a way, though they left disagreeing over just how effective the pact would be.

During the final plenary meeting, we came to a consensus on the visions and pathways that outline our future response to climate change. To mitigate current risks and stifle future threats, we employed a multi-scale approach that involved local, regional, national and international pathways. Ideally this will create a more holistic and comprehensive plan for dealing with varied impacts of climate change, while fostering cooperation between delegations and entities.

The delegates agreed to a reduction in carbon emissions of no less than 60 percent, with renewable energy sources making up no less than 30 percent of the global energy mix.

To preserve the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, we stated that developed countries must assist developing countries in creating carbon-efficient energy technologies. To accomplish this goal, every delegation must seriously consider the design of a carbon tax system.

Some other highlights of the agreement:

  • We addressed the preservation of all bodies of water by agreeing to adopt a multi-scale approach. This means that depending on what is most effective, governance will sometimes come from the local level and other times from the national or even international level.
  • To further refine our governance methods, we committed to increase transparency in the decision-making process and enforcement of our climate change-related regulations. When possible, a bottom-up approach (i.e. starting from the local level of government) will be preferred for ecosystem management.
  • Regarding the protection of endangered territories, we approved a 50-year moratorium on exploratory oil drilling and extraction in the Arctic starting in June 2016.
  • We defined climate refugees as people who were forced to leave their homes and communities domestically or internationally due to climate change. All parties are obligated to assist the migration flows according to their own capability so as not to overburden the accommodating nations.
  • To help fund climate change mitigation and prevention programs, we approved that all developed nations must make a contribution to the Green Climate Fund each year and developing nations are strongly encouraged to do so within their means in an effort to make at least $100 billion available.
The ride home. Understanding different perspectives was key to framing a climate agreement at the Make It Work student simulation in Paris.
The ride home. Understanding different perspectives was key to framing a climate agreement at the Make It Work student simulation in Paris.

There are a few possible scenarios for Earth’s future, which depend on a variety of factors, including how greenhouse gas emissions change. Therefore, we opted to create a text that was flexible enough to promote environmental and economic sustainability with enough teeth to also enact change. This aspect of the compromise was difficult to embrace. Some delegations felt that creating such an ambiguous text was pointless if it did not push us. It seemed that in order to achieve consensus, the articles were diluted to appeal to everyone. This process showed me how difficult it is to balance the varied needs of the delegations and come out on the other end with a progressive document that you can be proud of.

I also found it a challenge to check my personal agenda to negotiate as Algeria without my own biases. If I had applied my perspective, I would have opted for stricter regulations. I would have pushed for a larger focus on water conservation, even though the priorities should have been developing a more stable economy with increased focus on alternative energies.

Additionally, I am used to living in the research realm, so exploring the diplomacy and policy side of science was a totally new experience. It was incredibly valuable to learn how the data that climatologists and paleoclimatologists produce could be applied on a global scale. As a graduate student, it is all too easy to get lost in the narrow realm of your research, so it I believe that it is a necessary exercise to see the world outside of your lab.

Attending the Make It Work simulation with the two Columbia delegations was an additional bonus. I met new people at Columbia that I wouldn’t have otherwise. There are many students in programs across the university who share the same goal to understand our Earth and endeavor to help others do the same. As a graduate student, it is not only easy to develop tunnel vision in your research field but also your social life. It was great to learn about the different ways that people were applying their knowledge of sustainable and environmental sciences. It opened my eyes to the vast number of ways people can influence our perspectives and behavior regarding climate change.

So did we live up to its name and actually make it work by the end of the simulation? In some ways we definitely did. We came to a consensus on our plans for dealing with climate change and determining the most important ways to limit further damage. Coming to a final decision was not a given, and being able to do so was an accomplishment. We only had two and a half days to negotiate, so I believe that with more time, we could have crafted a document that was not so rushed. It seemed that it was easier to reach consensus when we were sleep deprived, and I couldn’t help but wonder if people, including myself, were relenting because of a lack of energy to oppose the propositions. In the end our conclusions were a compromise to appease all of the delegations and didn’t include anything particularly revolutionary. While global cooperation is necessary to combat the effects of climate change, reaching a global compromise is a mammoth task, and I’m not sure how effective it is.

HoloceneI was incredibly lucky to be able to attend the simulation and learn about the role of diplomacy and negotiations in climate science. One of the most important lessons I took away from the trip was a greater understanding for the need to improve science communication. The UN negotiations will be pointless if scientists do not properly inform their nation’s representatives and the public at large. The dissemination of scientific articles is insufficient, and either the researchers themselves or other communicators should translate the information into more accessible and colloquial phrasing.

With a stronger connection between scientific research and the public sector, these types of conferences and negotiations would produce well-informed and executable plans. I look forward to tracking the progress of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris this coming December and hope that the delegations are able to produce formidable plan for our approach to climate change in the coming decades.

Logan Brenner, a PhD student in the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, is reporting from the Paris “Make It Work” student conference, a simulation of the UN’s climate negotiations planned for December 2015. She writes online at “Science of Logan.”

For more on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the upcoming 21st Conference of the Parties to the convention in December, check out the UNFCCC newsroom.

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