Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Climate Change Negotiation Simulation

  My research is only extremely tangentially related to climate change, but many others at IIASA this summer are working quite directly on it from various angles (modelling, policy, mitigation...).  Today there was a YSSP workshop that I decided to participate in: a climate change negotiation simulation.  The idea was to try to more or less realistically simulate the process of negotiation (or lack thereof) at, say, Copenhagen.  I was curious to see what it would feel like to be on the inside of the process, instead of feeling frustrated observing it from the outside.  We all got dossiers that described our country's background, positions, actions, and interests, and we were expected to act in line with those dossiers, not according to our personal views.  I got Switzerland, which is actually pretty close to my own views, however, which made it easy.  I've never been very good at role-playing, but here I could mostly just play myself.
  It was indeed quite interesting.  The bias and venality of the various countries was very well play-acted.  The ability of even relatively minor countries (Saudia Arabia, Nigeria) to completely derail the process was amazing.  The flurry of proposals and counter-proposals and amendments was impossible to really stay on top of or react to, but that was OK because they never actually came to a vote — even the countries that had proposed them knew they didn't stand a chance of passage.
  I found it increasingly difficult to maintain the impartial, distanced position of Switzerland as time went on, and I'm afraid I dropped a bit out of character when I ridiculed the United States position quite publicly, as well as when I passed a private note to Canada making fun of them for claiming that more scientific evidence was needed before consensus could be reached about whether global warming is real.  In reality, openly mocking the U.S. for its laughable climate change position is unwise, because the U.S. has such a myriad of ways to punish those who oppose it too openly and publicly, and such a myriad of benefits to distribute to those countries that it likes.  I imagine that is what keeps countries like Switzerland from fully speaking what must be on their minds (as well as perhaps some tattered vestige of civility).
  Unsurprisingly, our simulation ended just as Copenhagen did, with nothing substantial agreed.  Actually we may have even done a bit worse, because we didn't even reach the vague, non-binding resolution that climate change is a bit of a problem that somebody somewhere ought to be paying attention to; I think we had quite a few countries who would have vetoed even that.  In the post-discussion, there was a good deal of talk asking whether multilateral negotiations like this can ever succeed with an issue as complex and fraught as climate change, or whether other approaches (regional coalitions, for example) ought to come to the fore.  There are huge disadvantages to that too, though.  It remains the big, intractable problem of the 21st century, I think: there are problems that appear to require global cooperation if they are to be solved, and those problems of such great urgency that they really must be solved, and yet it appears that global cooperation on them is impossible.  We need to cut the Gordian knot.  I had hoped that Obama would be the man to do it, but so far he doesn't seem interested.

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