Tackling climate change on a global scale

Taking part in a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change revealed just how challenging climate change negotiations can be, writes master’s student Sui Kan Cheung

June 25 2019
student, university, climate change, conference

“This is not about doing the right thing – this is about survival, and we’re not ready to die yet” was one of the powerful opening statements at a simulation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations that I attended last month . 

I was one of 150 CEMS master’s in international management students from 30 nations who gathered at the University of Cologne to take part in a unique learning experience designed to equip us with the real-life skills to help tackle climate change in our future roles as business leaders.

The simulation was the culmination of a semester-long programme on climate change and climate policy, which takes place across nine of the business schools belonging to the CEMS alliance – ESADE Business School; Bocconi University; Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University; Corvinus University of Budapest; University of St Gallen; Stockholm School of Economics; the University of Cologne, SGH Warsaw School of Economics and Vienna University of Economics and Business.

Students are assigned roles that mirror those participating in the actual negotiations and work to obtain a consensus around ambitious strategies to implement the global objective of maintaining climate change below 2ºC, the point of reference agreed in Paris. The idea is that we get practical experience of how to influence business outcomes to tackle climate change – rather than just absorbing theory.

I represented Nicaragua and found it frustrating that we could not find common ground on some critical issues, for example, shipping tax. In order to reach a final agreement, as we had made a big progress on the mitigation and adaptation sections, delegates agreed to move the controversial issues to the next UNFCCC simulation. 


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Anger, frustration, sadness…I experienced so many emotions during those two days. I was angry that some of the powerful nations only prioritised their national interests and ignored the situations of the smaller nations, which are suffering the most. It was frustrating trying to convince other nations to put aside their national interests and try to work together to reach the below 2ºC goal.  

We all gained a lot over those two days. I believe that the real conference, the UNFCCC, would be more dynamic and it would be more difficult to reach consensus with so many conflicting interests because all nations will have to take into account the complex impact on their own country before they sign or vote for any parts of the agreement.

Forming coalitions and informal talks facilitated negotiations, but the influence of the press team cannot be neglected, especially because they could help to intensify the political pressure of being the “bad” guy during the negotiation.

The UNFCCC simulation is impressive. It deepened my knowledge of one of the most important challenges to humanity by highlighting its difficulties and complexities. Strong political will and compromise of national interests are needed to find a way out of climate change issues. 

During the intensive course, we were able to learn the history and development of the UNFCCC as well as the important milestones of humans fighting climate change, led by the UNFCCC.

I really enjoyed the multimedia and interactive teaching mode. Videos, in-class discussions and small group presentations helped me to understand the challenges of my allotted country and other countries in dealing with climate change issues.

Last but not least, the guest lectures and in-class role play enriched our learning experience because it allowed us to interact with the guests to attain a better understanding of current business practices and the most important factors that need to be considered when dealing with various involved parties.

In particular, the role play activity in the last lecture helped us to get familiar with the formal setting during the real conference and gain a short glimpse of the stances of developed and developing countries.

Read more: Top universities for climate action

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