Climate change is one of the most pressing global challenges for the international community. Linked to a growing list of natural disasters – from droughts and desertification to floods and melting ice caps – climate change poses an existential threat to all of humanity. Against this backdrop, a coordinated international response is not only warranted but desperately needed.
Acting as the main forum for dialogue and collective action, the United Nations (including all agencies, funds and programmes) has worked hard to raise awareness and understanding – and UNU is no exception. To this end, while helping our Master’s students to deepen their grasp on climate change, UNU-MERIT hosted a unique ‘climate change simulation’ in late February 2016.
In partnership with the US-based ‘Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration’ (NASPAA) we became the first European university – and UN body – to host a NASPAA student competition. Altogether some 300 students gathered at eight university campuses to propose creative and realistic solutions to climate change. UNU-MERIT itself hosted 39 students from 12 universities from around the world. To convey the magnitude of the task, students were given a pre-written case study authored by NASPAA experts. The goal of the simulation was therefore to grasp the full complexity of the challenge and then to develop a concrete proposal to mitigate climate change.
Students played the role of expert panels commissioned by the G20; they did not represent countries but, instead, each team had two or three members representing key industries and sectors including fossil fuel, renewable energy, food and agriculture. Their proposals were evaluated by a computer model, which in turn gave them concrete information on feasibility, costs and ‘stakeholder perception’ (i.e., how likely their constituents would accept the proposals).
The simulation gave students a tangible sense of how the technical and political rounds of negotiations looked like at the UN ‘COP 21’ climate talks in Paris. Participants experienced first-hand the difficult position negotiators are put in: because while they may agree with another sector’s proposals, they still have to honestly represent the particular interests of their sector. Beyond this, they also had to navigate an intense negotiation process, involving different negotiation techniques and dealing with different approaches to problem solving. As the hours passed they also had to come to the conclusion that realistic compromise was necessary if their proposal had any chance of succeeding. In short, they had a tough but fruitful day.
Each of the global sites had different teams discussing the case in parallel and, at the end of the day, all proposals were evaluated by two judges who had the difficult task of selecting a winner. Each site had to choose a local winner and the eight presentations were then submitted to a panel of three “super judges” – who then picked a global winner.
At UNU-MERIT we had the privilege to welcome as our site judges Dr. Valerie Graw from the University of Bonn in Germany and Dr. Dorcas Mbuvi from the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands. Our two teams presented their final proposals both orally and in writing and at the end of the day the judges selected one winner. Within just a few days of the event, we were delighted to learn that our site winner had been selected by the super judges as the global winner of the 2nd NASPAA Student Competition.
The competition was a fruitful exercise for everyone involved. For the participants it was an opportunity to meet fellow students from different backgrounds and engage in truly international negotiations. For UNU-MERIT it helped us to expose our students to the UN framework on climate change and to help develop creative solutions to an issue that is not only at the heart of the UN but also at the centre of our collective future.
The UNU-MERIT students on the winning team were: Marion Charpentier, Manuel Friedlein, Nick Germanacos, Audrey Hobbelen, Jill LaPlante, Sarah Neehus, and Ennio Valentino Picucci. See below for the event images and videos of the winning presentation as well as interviews with several participants and conference managers.
UNU / S.Brodin & H.Hudson