Formal and informal insights into the process of the climate change negotiations

Aug 10, 2020 by

Today our session, which was organized by two Austrian leading experts in the field of climate protection, Helga Kromp-Kolb and Mathias Kirchner, was really exciting and engaging – we had a very interesting simulation of climate change negotiations, which was followed later by lively discussion on the feelings and impressions, which  we have experienced during and after the simulation.

To start with the crash-course of Helga Kromp-Kolb, which served as one of the preparatory materials and was built in a very concise and organized manner. Great thank you for that! The political part was very easy to comprehend though required us to do some additional research (e.g. Are there any countries that dare to trade their carbon emissions? What exactly is the clean development mechanism?).

All of us should understand that climate change is one of the biggest threats we face and if countries continue to live without paying much attention to this issue and will not try to challenge it, it may have significant geopolitical impacts around the world. To look at the coastal cities such as Shanghai, Miami, Venice and others, which will be overflooded due to the increased amount of precipitation and as a result it may spur or exacerbate mass migration and other negative effects.

At the beginning, we were briefly instructed on the rules of the negotiations and were divided into six groups – US, EU, Other Developed Countries, China, India and Other Developing Countries. One more thing, which should be emphasized regarding the states’ group formation would be that there are many countries in some blocks. This kind of diversity was tough to deal with. How one can align the interests and climate change commitments of Russia and Canada in a non-contradictory manner? Tricky –  would be the proper word here 🙂

The simulation process was divided into 3 rounds, during each we had to agree on a deal to share costs of the mitigation and adaptation fund to aid most vulnerable nations in order to reduce greenhouse gas levels by 2100 at a level that keeps global warming well below 1,5 °C .

Each round of negotiations involved a lot of discussions in and between different groups, and a lot of compromises were needed to be taken in order to achieve the common goal, which is crucial for the wealth and well-being of all the countries and their citizens. While during the first two rounds we didn’t come up with significant lowering point of temperature increase (+2,7°C and +2,4 °C) compared to initial one, which was (+4,2°C), we managed to almost achieve it during the third round of negotiations. The last round of negotiations was really tense and required a lot of effort taken from all the parties involved in order to achieve or at least get closer to achieving the goal. To sum up, in order to get to 1,5 °C, we would need to start reducing our emissions in the next 10 years, as well as cutting annual reduction rate significantly and start afforestation campaigns instead of deforestation, which we can observe worldwide nowadays. Although we managed to get only to 1,6 °C, we received much more important lessons from this simulation, which is that cooperative work and give-and-take approach can help us to achieve the goals, which seem to be unattainable at first sight and that it is better to care for the future of our planet now, not when it would get too late.

Furthermore, the climate negotiations exercise was helpful in the sense that it allowed us to understand how hard it is to reconcile the national interests in dealing with the climate crisis and its urgency. We also brought up an interesting debate about the differences and similarities between the real and “our” modelled negotiations: passionate VS rational approach, backstage VS formal, individual input in the negotiations process. However, one of the hardest things we had to do is to always keep in mind that these talks should not lead to just business-as-usual results. The numbers were not just simple numerical signs for a trade-off, but some real qualitative change is hidden behind them.

It was interesting to get to know that in the real negotiations the social and economic status of the country groups is reflected in the attitude to the delegations. The delegations from the developed states sit in their own chairs and enjoy some snacks while the delegations from the developing countries can appear to be sitting on the floor. This kind of harmful social convention should be rethought and reorganised. Another exciting thing to hear was the availability of the experts to assist in negotiations for different states. The provision of the informational resources is very critical to creating the level-playing field within system of the negotiations.

What else would be interesting in the climate negotiations? It would be exciting to manage to also talk about the CDM, ETS and mechanisms in their context, which could evoke some interesting comprehensive negotiations. It might be also helpful to provide on short notice the resources for the briefing where we could quickly address the numbers different countries pledged for during different COPs. In this way the combined groups (like the developed nations or developing nations) will have less trouble in working for the common strategy and identifying common goals. E.g.

To conclude, this session was really interactive and although it was fun to play with data and numbers, while trying to find the optimal model for achieving 1,5 °C, in the end it was really worrying. Since if it’s so complicated to achieve the goal even during the simulation, how could we really achieve it in real life?

As mentioned 4 years ago by professor Will Steffen during one of his public speeches: “If by the 2100 we have a 4° temperature rise, we will have a shift as big as between an ice age, when humans barely survived. (…) The last time these temperature changes required almost 5000 years, now it can happen just by the end of the century and to survive such sort of change, would be impossible since it is beyond human physiology”. Therefore, there is an urgent need for major shifts and our efforts united can tip the scale for future generations.

Written by: Darya and Anastasiia

Based on the session with Helga Kromp-Kolb, Mathias Kirchner, Ernest Aigner and Wolfgang Lalouschek during the AEMS 2020.