Simulating Negotiations on Climate Change

A new course at Sciences Po’s School of Management and Innovation
  • Actualité Sciences PoActualité Sciences Po

Active and innovative learning techniques

For its first year of existence, one of the objectives of EMI was the introduction of active and innovative learning techniques in their course offer. In this framework, a climate negotiation was successfully organized in Professor Eloi Laurent’s course “Political Economy of the Environment-Managing our ecological crisis”. Based on the promising student feedback on the exercise, the simulation has laid the first stone for more innovative learning approaches to come.

The simulation was organized in Eloi Laurent’s course “Political Economy of the Environment – Managing our ecological crisis” with the support of Sciences Po’s FORCCAST program (Marine Denis), specialized in the study of scientific controversies and the simulation of debates and negotiations.

The course was attended by nineteen students coming from all master programs offered at EMI, namely Finance & Strategy, Communication, Marketing and Human Resources. The different academic profiles of the participants were a valuable input to the simulation exercise.

Students participated in two debates, which simulated pre-COP24 preparatory negotiations on adaptation to climate change and on mitigation measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The participants endorsed the role of five country-based delegations (China, the US, the EU, the UN and Fiji). Each of those delegations was composed of a set of actors representing the strategies and interests of the private sector, the civil society, the government bodies and experts. Their objective was to renegotiate the Paris Agreement based on their strategic alliances and interests.

By doing so, the simulation pursued a dual pedagogical goal: First, it aimed at fostering a better understanding of the geopolitical issues on climate change; second, it gave students the opportunity to acquire, next to the thematic course content, the necessary practical negotiation techniques, which prepare them for real-life situations.

Organization and Progress of the Simulation

Integrating a simulation in a course on Political Economy is a challenging task both for the teachers and the students. Indeed, the course design has to take stock of the simulation as an integral part of the evaluation process. For students, courses with simulation exercises require some additional time investment, notably for the drafting of position papers and for setting up strategic group meetings outside the classroom.

The simulation opened with a press conference, which was organized the week before the actual first round simulations, where delegations presented their position papers. The press conference was an interesting way to make students dive into the simulation and its exigency. More specifically, students were confronted with the questions from real life experts posing as journalists invited by the FORCCAST team.

The courses of the following two weeks where dedicated to the two negotiation sessions on mitigation and adaptation respectively. Both adopted an innovative approach to climate justice, in line with the research conducted by Professor Eloi Laurent and the lectures offered beforehand to students.  

To render both simulations more lively and realistic, Marine Denis and Isabel Ruck (from the FORCCAST program) aimed at introducing certain unsettling elements into the negotiation process forcing participants to review or realign their previously established agendas and strategies. The simulation exercise also used the channel of social networks (i.e. Twitter : @Simuecocrisis) to diffuse the actors’ positions and opinions.

In this perspective, it was interesting to note how a tweet from the United Nations representative put the previously established inter-delegation harmony into question and forged participants to adopt completely new approaches. This disruption also allowed some positions to emerge more clearly, such as the private market interests in the transfer of technology and insurance mechanisms to reduce climate change disaster risks, the growing political power of megalopolis or the influence of fake news on decision-making. The simulation has equally permitted students to uncover the informal side of climate negotiations, as well as the transcalarity and interconnectedness of the various debates that took place.

Student's opinions

“First, lectures enabled us to acquire a strong theoretical background on environmental issues, through an economic, social and political standpoint. The course stresses the importance of interdisciplinary dialogue and cooperation to tackle climate change, showing how environmental conservation is key to achieve justice and development. Furthermore, the innovative pedagogy was crucial to get students involved. It enabled us to develop our critical thinking on our own through our group position papers. At the end of the course, we were engaged in an interactive debate masterfully orchestrated by teachers, allowing us to enrich our perspectives on real-world situations where pressing environmental concerns are deliberated on. All the students really enjoyed the role play during the simulation, where different parties were represented (private, public, NGOs actors were played by students, while press was represented by teachers; even civil society was present through a Twitter account created for the occasion). We all appreciated this new pedagogy that enabled us to interact with other students, and understand better the difficulties of discussing climate change mitigation and adaptation at an international scale.

The lectures were really inspiring and the negotiations simulation was very stimulating for us. We are all thankful for this amazing learning experience we had!“

“The Political Economy of the Environment class is a unique occasion in the Sciences Po curriculum to immerse oneself in the world of climate negotiations and get a solid understanding of the political, economic and ecological challenges related to them.

The structure of the class allowed us students to both learn and understand: the first sessions of in-class traditional teaching  supported by tutorials and professionals presentations gave us the tools as well as the theoretical and technical grounds to analyze ecological crises related problematics. On the other hand, the draft of a position paper by delegations, the presentation of this position during a press conference and finally the debate around each delegation’s propositions to amend the Paris Agreement on climate change was a chance for us to really get in the shoes of international climate negotiators.

The innovative aspect of the class lies in this format’s capacity to get us involved in a character’s position thus leading us to a deeper understanding of the challenges related to ecological crises and the way they are managed. Also, it encouraged us to think of concrete solutions to these crises under the constraints of an international negotiation process and taking into account our respective character’s interests.

I particularly enjoyed researching and understanding the context and interests of my character’s position in order to fit as much as possible with the country’s actual position. Also, I appreciated the efforts deployed to recreate the experience of a real negotiation around the simulation. It involved for example the active participation of guests acting as journalists during the press conference or even the use of Twitter to develop the debates and negotiation evolution during and after the the simulation sessions. It has played a crucial role in the immersive learning experience that the class created.“

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