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Model UN on Climate Change offers thrilling insight on sustainability policies and global negotiations

In today’s fast-evolving global landscape, addressing climate change has become an urgent priority. As we confront the dual challenges of environmental crisis and opportunity, we must arm ourselves with the knowledge, skills, and determination needed to forge a sustainable future.

On March 12 and 13, 2024, the roleplay United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference (COP 29) saw 85 students participate in the event, which is part of the inaugural Climate Change & Business Sustainability module. The module, offered at UCD Lochlann Quinn School of Business and UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, provided an exceptional platform for students to delve deep into the current state of the world and anticipate its future trajectory. It also offered a comprehensive understanding of the scientific underpinnings of climate change, as well as insights into the intricate workings of the annual UNFCCC assembly.

The module was organized by Professor Colm McLaughlin and Associate Professors Andrew Keating and Julie Byrne, with lectures delivered by visiting experts from the University of Cologne and ESADE Business School and an  additional session on UNFCCC negotiation skills was provided by the former Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations, Mr. David Donoghue.

The module culminated in the two-day, mock UNFCCC COP29 negotiation held at UCD Smurfit School where students endeavored to negotiate an ambitious yet realistic international climate agreement.

Students were assigned to country delegations earlier in the module and were asked to produce a background paper on the climate position and challenges their assigned country faces. They also had to develop a position statement for their country on Mitigation and Compliance, Adaptation and Resourcing, and Market Mechanisms.

In negotiating the climate agreement, students were required to stay true to their country’s interests to experience the ‘realpolitik’ of climate change negotiations.

“For two days, 85 students threw themselves into the task at hand, working tirelessly to negotiate an agreement that was in their country’s interests but that also took account of the global challenge of climate change we all face,” said module coordinator Professor Colm McLaughlin. “I was impressed by the level of student engagement that the roleplay created.”

“On day two it was interesting to see how many students were even better prepared than the first day, having spent the evening looking for evidence to challenge and move other nations towards their bargaining position.”

“The students surpassed my expectations by some distance and in doing so gained a level of understanding of international climate change policy that lectures alone could not have imparted,” concluded Professor McLaughlin. “Student feedback has described the roleplay as ‘brilliant’ and ‘one of the most unique and enjoyable experiences I had during my time at UCD’.”

The event was supported by the wider CEMS – The Global Alliance in Management Education, Merel Wallis de Vries (President for Dublin COP role play) and Maria Kotzia.  

“Based on a module taught in 11 of our CEMS partner schools, the UNFCCC role play is a powerful and engaging way for students to grapple with and apply their learnings around Climate Science, Finance, Environmental  economics and Politics, and to understand the urgency of the situation we all presently face,” said Associate  Professor Andrew Keating, who is also the Academic Director of UCD’s top-ranked CEMS programme.

“The assembly role-play was the highlight of our experience. Representing various countries as delegates, students assumed the responsibility of advocating for the nation’s interests in protecting and promoting our resources and potential. Beyond gaining an in-depth understanding of the countries represented, students refined their communication skills by adopting the appropriate terminology and diplomatic etiquette when engaging with counterparts. Moreover, they developed their negotiation abilities by strategically aligning themselves in coalitions to amplify their influence on the global scene.”

“I personally participated in the assembly in the press office,” added Angeli. “I, together with my team, provided real-time updates on the two agenda items, mitigation and compliance and adaptation and resourcing, to create a more dynamic assembly.”

“From Germany’s proposal to modify the voting mechanism from consensus to majority voting to impassioned calls for financial support from delegates of Namibia and Uganda, we shared a series of timely articles on the website we created, UNFCCC News, that kept participants well-informed. Moreover, nations had the opportunity to request one-on-one interviews, providing invaluable insights into their perspectives.”

On the second day, the press office decided to disrupt the negotiation with a twist by disclosing news of an oil rig explosion in Qatar. This unexpected event injected a new dynamic into discussions, creating an imbalance between proponents and opponents of oil and gas, and adding an extra layer of complexity and tension to the negotiations.
“Negotiations halted and flowed, driven by the level of engagement and prompts from participating nations,” described Angeli. “Ultimately, after intense deliberations, consensus was reached on the Dublin Charter—a comprehensive document outlining the commitments and actions to be undertaken, encapsulated in a series of articles. This milestone, achieved through diplomatic dialogue and negotiation, embodied a collective commitment to addressing the challenges of climate change collectively.”

When reflecting on this fantastic experience, one thing becomes clear: the importance of collaborative action in addressing the pressing challenges of climate change. From the immersive role-play simulations to the insightful lectures and discussions, this experience has equipped us with the knowledge, skills, and determination needed to drive meaningful change in our world.

The module was a project under the Strategic Alignment of Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund (SATLE). The fund was awarded by the National Forum/Higher Education Authority. More information is available here.