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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  Blog  /  Blog Entries  /  Climate Change Negotiations: learning through role playing

Climate Change Negotiations: learning through role playing

Posted by Ajay Chauhan at Jan 16, 2017 12:25 PM |

by Bernardo Bastien

Nowadays we have everything we need to deal with climate change: high resolution climate models; a global structure that allows dialogue between countries; and several technological options to generate clean energy. So, why is this problem still so difficult to face? This question can be addressed by different disciplines and in different levels of analysis. However, obtaining an absolute answer is hardly possible. One way to get closer to the answer is being part of a simulation and make decisions as if the planet was in our hands.

The World Climate Simulation is a role playing game in which the participants act as international diplomats in the climate change sessions of the Conference of the Parties, e.g. COP22 which was recently held in Marrakech. Participants have to negotiate and set up their future levels of greenhouse gases emissions, aiming to keep the global mean temperature well below 2 °C.

This was our challenge as students of the “Global Environmental Change” module at UCL. Each of us, as delegates representing countries, received an invitation to participate in the game, indicating the time and place of the negotiation and some other important information about our assigned country.

Common venue but differentiated seats

When we arrived to the venue, some differences were immediately noticeable. Whereas the representatives of rich countries could sit around tables to discuss tactics and eat cakes provided, the developing countries barely had any chairs or a place where to stand, and most had to resort to sitting on the floor. Then, we understood that this was part of the game set-up and reflected the differential funding that some negotiators have to deal with when attending the real conferences.


The main premise for the beginning of the game could be described as follows: developed countries would be able to substantially reduce emissions as long as they don’t feel threatened by the very rapidly-growing developing countries. On the other hand, developing countries will try to postpone their emission reductions as long as they can since that would mean to keep back from potentiating their economies. Nevertheless, we all agreed that climate is drastically changing due to human activity, so we needed to find synergies to cut global emissions having in mind the global conditions and our national assessments.

Nations determined to contribute

Of course we all did our homework. Knowledge about what are our current and projected emissions, our GDP, the size of our population and the potential impacts of climate change to our country, was essential to formulate strong arguments to negotiate.

We had three rounds of negotiation in which we used our key negotiation tools to pressure others to reduce their emissions, always having in mind that we should also reduce. The negotiation tools included: economic power willing to be invested in developing countries to generate clean energy; the right of poor countries that are more vulnerable to climate impacts to ask for the great emitters to reduce their levels; and the right to ask historical major emitters to reduce their emissions due to their historical responsibility.

The strategies were diverse. Nevertheless, as time passed we realized one thing: we were not isolated countries with physical boundaries separating us one from another. We were nations sharing the same planet, and we should be determined to cooperate and find solutions within our capabilities to mitigate climate change.

Our decisions matter

There is one key feature in this simulation that maybe plays the most important role. We counted with the possibility of knowing the implications of our decisions in real-time mode. We used C-Roads, a computer simulator that projected global variables as temperature and sea-level rise consistent with the levels of CO2 that we were committing to in each round of negotiation. This was certainly the main driver that kept us looking forward to cut the global emissions. It was surprising to see that what we thought were good levels of CO2, resulted in global temperatures still close to 3 °C by the end of the century! After over 3 rounds of negotiating amongst 35 students, we almost hit our target of 2 °C.


This exercise made us realize how individual decisions matter not only at a global scale but also as citizens able to reduce our consumption, demand the government to have strategies for adapting/mitigating to climate change and opt for cleaner energies, among others. I am sure that it has been one of the most integrated, enriching and rewarding learning experiences I’ve had.

Bernardo Bastien is a postgraduate student on the MSc Climate Change. He has two climate-related blogs: and and can be found on twitter too @Ber_Bastien