WEST ORANGE, NJ — Following the international COP25 (Conference of Parties) Climate Summit in Chile from Dec. 2-13, students at Liberty Middle School recently held a simulated summit of their own.
The summit, which grew out of the Paris Climate Agreement, is organized by the United Nations. This year's summit was considered a disappointment because the largest greenhouse-gas emitters on the planet—China, the United States and India—offered little to nothing to curb emissions and help reach the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's target of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius, or ideally 1.6 degrees.
Under the Paris Climate Agreement, countries are expected to commit by 2020 to more aggressive climate plans, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) set in 2015. Sixty countries participated in 2019, but 70 are expected for 2020.
The West Orange middle schoolers first received briefing documents tailored to their individual country groups. The World Climate Summit documents provided background information on their country group’s past, current and future emission rates, contributions to the global fund and land use.
Students then conducted supplemental research on their country group’s resources and needs as well as what proposals are realistic for the simulation. They then had time to learn the C-ROADS software, conduct background research on the other country groups, develop opening speeches and announce their initial proposals.
Although science teachers suggested some useful sites, the students were charged with finding any other necessary information and deciding what details would be helpful. The groups then set their own requirements for what they are willing to offer and what they think they need from the other groups.
During the summit, the students constantly need to adapt to those requirements as they negotiate deals and as they have to account for deals between other groups.
The students worked with unique software developed for the actual climate investigation.
C-ROADS, which stands for “Climate Rapid Overview and Decision Support,” is developed by Climate Interactive, MIT, Ventana Systems and UML Climate Change Initiative. The model was reviewed by an external scientific review committee, chaired by Sir Robert Watson, former Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The reviewers recommended C-ROADS for widespread use, and it has since been used in top government, corporate and NGO levels as well as by individuals participating in or monitoring the UNFCCC negotiations.
At Liberty Middle School, six groups were represented at this year's mock summit, including: United States, European Union, other developed countries, other developing countries, China and India.
On the day of the summit, delegates (students) sit within their country groups and hear from the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the UN Secretary-General and the UN Chief Climate Scientist, who debrief them on current global trends in regard to climate change. Their mission for the day is to “limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius or less by the year 2100.”
Students then engage in two rounds of negotiations with the other country groups and submit proposal statements that indicate their: emissions peak year, the year in which their reductions will begin, reduction rates, deforestation rates and aforestation rates. All of these proposals are inputted into C-ROADS software to see if their negotiations have had any impact on the global temperature increase.
Also present are members of the press corps, Climate Change activists and Fossil Fuel Lobbyists—all of whom are played by parents. Since Lobbyists have a history of buying influence, they are given a brown paper bag of $100,000 Grand bars to bribe the delegates.
According to science teacher Vince DeJesus, the goal is to “keep temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius as shown by the C Roads software.”
“After the first round of negotiations, their pledges had lowered it from the ‘business-as-usual’ 4.3 degrees to 2.2 degrees,” said DeJesus. “A definite improvement but not the goal."
At the end of the second round, negotiations broke down when members of the India team felt they were being pushed to make concessions beyond their capabilities and voided all of their agreements. In response, the rest of the delegates stuck to their agreements, but wanted to declare war on India.
Although initial data seemed to indicate that the delegates were going to achieve their goal, their impasse resulted in a loss of momentum, and they only achieved 2.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
"This was our fourth year for the event, and it’s always a highlight for us," said DeJesus. "This year's group was one of our most focused. They even continued to negotiate during lunch.”
DeJesus said he especially likes that the summit requires students to “think on their feet during the negotiations.”
“They usually come in with the idea that it’s all going to follow the plan that they made during their event prep,” he said. “Then they find out that their plan doesn’t mesh with the plans of the other groups. They have to adapt. Renegotiate. Every time someone makes a deal the numbers change and they have to go back in and refine their agreements. If they can’t think on their feet everything falls apart.”
One of the students reported that the event was “really enjoyable” and that the simulation showed students how climate change “isn’t caused by one country.”
“It needs to be a global effort to combat the impact we have had on our planet,” the student said. “I had a really fun but frustrating time negotiating with my fellow classmates.”
DeJesus concluded that the negotiations breakdown at the end of the day was a “valuable learning experience” for the students, and that it was “probably the closest they came to a ‘real-life’ situation."