Simulation of international negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

David Hastings
Eckerd College
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Initial Publication Date: September 29, 2006 | Reviewed: October 22, 2012


In order to convey how the international community is responding to climate change, students engage in a simulation of the international negotiation process. Participants learn first hand the interests of different countries and the range of policy responses to mitigate future climate change.

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I have used this simulation in an upper level undergraduate class for science and non-science majors. Works especially well for environmental science / studies classes.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

A fundamental understanding of climate change dynamics and the potential impacts of climate change will help students appreciate the desired outcome to reduce greenhouse gases.

How the activity is situated in the course

I find it most useful at end of semester/term as a culminating project for a class on climate change, and environmental studies or environmental science.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

To examine possible policy solutions to mitigate climate change.
To determine how much reduction in greenhouse gases is feasible.
To determine which policy actions will result in a large (and small) reductions in greenhouse gases.
To determine the complexity and difficulty of climate change negotiations.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Critical evaluation of policy alternatives to climate change—which ones are workable, which ones are "best", which ones are acceptable to the international community?
Critical thinking skills; synthesis of different ideas to lower greenhouse gas emissions

Other skills goals for this activity

Collaborating with other students. Learning negotiating skills—how to most effectively accommodate interests which are different from the ones you represent? Oral presentation of arguments.

Description of the activity/assignment

Teaching about policy solutions to climate change using an in-class simulation results in increased understanding of the process and is more interesting for the students compared to a lecture-based approach. For those teachers like myself whose expertise is in science rather than policy this approach has the added advantage that much of the student learning derives from their own initiative and resourcefulness instead of the "teacher as expert" method. It develops essential skills including collaboration, cooperation, negotiation, and requires an understanding of different perspectives.

To prepare for the simulation, I give a short lecture and assign background readings presenting an overview of international climate change negotiations. During this class, students then choose one country to represent making sure that countries from key groups are represented, e.g. G77 + China, EU, island nations, oil producing countries, and JUSCANZ (Japan, US, Canada, Aus., NZ). Before the next class, each student writes a background paper about their country and their future energy demands as well as a draft resolution on how to mitigate climate change reflecting their countries interests. Once students have determined their own positions, they introduce themselves to the other representatives in class and state their position. I circulate their background papers and position papers.

The next class is devoted to informal meetings and discussion between countries (aka caucusing). This can occur in the classroom, or at a local coffee house, which adds to the novelty and enjoyment. Based on conversations, negotiations, and reading position papers, students revise and refine their draft resolution to produce a formal position paper. They present this during the last class which is a final negotiating session

Determining whether students have met the goals

Evaluation is based on background papers, as well as the draft and final position paper on how to mitigate climate change. I grade based on how accurate the draft version is, as well as how they have changed their resolution to reflect the real world realties. Assessment is also based on their oral presentation of their formal resolution, and overall class participation. Outcomes of actual negotiations, learning during lecture, and in readings, are assessed during a written examination.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

There are numerous web sites associated with model UN simulations, which is essentially what this exercise is like. Some relevant web sites include:
National Model UN:
The Haugue International Model UN:
Model UN Headquarters:
Official site for the UN:

Framework Convention on Climate Change:
Lots of information—take care and don't get bogged down in irrelevant bureaucracy.

Climate Change resources in the United Nations:

Key UN documents on Climate Change

Documents for the previous COP 9 meeting in Milan, Italy:
replace the number "9" with 10, 11, 12 for following meetings

Climate & Development Knowledge Network: [link ']