Warwick Climate Negotiation Forum: Students for a Better Future

by Izzy Hardern, GLOBUS Correspondent, and Katy Greco, Deputy Editor

Izzy Hardern – 29th October 2021

With COP26 taking place in Glasgow, the University of Warwick had its own simulation of global climate negotiations so that students passionate about preventing climate change could experience the highs and lows of negotiating the green transition.

As a Model UN-type debate, the Warwick Climate Negotiation Forum had students representing the interests of 19 countries in negotiations to prevent more than 1.5°C of warming globally by 2100. As part of the team running the event, WCNF had ‘lobbyists’ for oil, industry and agribusiness whose job it was to sway the delegates to make policies that suit their personal agendas, as well as ‘facilitators’ who supported delegates and tried to maintain the realism of the negotiations. In 2019, WCNF delegates committed to policies that would limit the global average temperature increase to 2.1°C by 2100, and Todd Olive, the founder, hoped that this year the delegates would agree on an even better target…

The Opening Ceremony

Before the actual ceremony began, I spoke to some delegates and lobbyists about their strategies and how they were feeling about the weekend ahead:
Martina Saccone, lobbyist for agribusiness, said she was feeling prepared and was primarily planning on talking to developing countries.
Ubayd Khan, delegate for Russia, planned to negotiate with China and the US (however, later he found that the US was unwilling to engage in any talks with Russia) and felt that cooperation would be the main challenge.
Luana Siantis, delegate for Kiribati (the first country set to drown due to sea-level rise) said that her main concern is preventing sea-level rise as much as possible

After these discussions, we sat down in anticipation of the opening ceremony. The lights went out and a video was played which demonstrated the structural issues which the delegates need to address because “every year, governments subsidise hundreds of billions of dollars” for climate-damaging practises when this money could be put to much better use, such as for alleviating poverty.

“Don’t Choose Extinction.”

Then, Todd Olive began his opening speech by describing how, during WCNF 2019, he had hoped that 2018 would be the turning point year for climate due to the large policy commitments that were made. But despite these policies, we are still heading towards a future that will displace hundreds of millions of people. Olive went on to compare humanity’s continually delayed response to the crisis to the trope of heroes always being saved from the enemy at the last minute. We live in denial of the severity of the crisis, hoping instead for last-minute carbon capture technologies, or for it to be part of natural temperature fluctuations. In reality, Olive continues, this is a “red alert for humanity” and COP26 will be a “last chance saloon” for meaningful goals and policies to be established.

This moving speech by Olive set the mood for the weekend, with delegates keen to prove the possibility of a future kept below 1.5°C of warming. Would it be possible? Or would the domestic concerns for each country get in the way of the extensive international cooperation necessary for this scale of transformation?

University of Warwick’s Provost Christine Ennew followed, with a speech detailing the crucial role students and universities will play in the fight against climate change. She argued that not only do university students have a “massive stake in ensuring this change takes place” but also that universities can be a centre of this change. By embedding sustainability into the curriculum and into the university’s research, we can become a leader and exemplar of a sustainable future. She ended by saying that universities should act as “living laboratories” that can “support and inspire and enable change”.

Day 2

Izzy Hardern – 30th October 2021

When discussing with delegates before the start of the day, Saudi Arabia seemed willing to change a small percentage of their energy into natural gas – the least polluting GHG. They hinted at a potential alliance with India, but the blossoming Asia-Pacific Alliance between India, Indonesia and Kiribati seemed more appealing – as they planned to advocate for developed, Global North countries to provide intergenerational equity by subsidising green development in developing countries. This alliance would help amplify the voices of other small island nations. For India, the alliance could provide advocacy for their impoverished population which often gets overlooked in international negotiations due to India’s high emissions.

The delegates for Indonesia were planning on negotiating with richer countries where their goals align, with their focus being “where is the money coming from?” The $100 billion Climate Adaptation Fund (CAF) that all countries were working towards needed to be divided fairly between them, but how could this be achieved? Could business leaders aid in the funding too?

Nigeria was planning on holding countries accountable to committing to the $100 billion a year Climate Fund. They were willing to make some compromises, but they wanted to hold developed countries more accountable for historic impacts. The delegates for Russia were planning on seeking an alliance with China and Saudi Arabia because they all had the later target of reaching net-zero carbon by 2060.

Position Statements:
Some countries, despite being low emitters, set impressive examples: Kiribati aimed to reduce emissions by

12.8% by 2030; Mali, whose emissions are only 0.1% of the global total, would commit to a 40% reduction by 2040; and South Africa, despite being one of the world’s largest producers of coal, would fully decarbonise by 2050. Climate justice and the proper delegation of responsibility was brought up by Nigeria, Brazil, and Indonesia.

The UK wanted to share global responsibility with other countries and aims to get to net-zero by 2050 as well as reverse and halt forest degradation by 2030. Canada too had the same target of 2050 and would plant 2 billion trees over 10 years. Germany, feeling the effects of climate change after last summer’s floods, urged the international community to fully decarbonise by 2040. Italy mirrored this by aiming to reach net-zero by 2040 and were willing to provide financial packages for developing countries. Saudi Arabia was keen to engage with other nations and ensure that the proportion of responsibility and historic inequalities in emissions is considered.

Financial support was raised several times: Ukraine, Bangladesh, and India requested funding to be able to meet their targets and priorities without compromising the needs of their populations.

The severity of the crisis was not apparent in a few position statements, such as Russia and China, which set their time deadlines for 2060. Australia defended their continued use of coal because they aimed to maintain sovereign economic interests despite their ageing labour force, so that they could combat income inequalities. The US’s position statement read quite weak with a transition to a “climate-resilient economy” and an aim to grow their economy by creating green jobs and seeking global collaboration with “emission reductions for all.”

After these position statements were concluded, the first round of negotiations began. Delegates decided what their countries could commit to and whether any terms of the agreement should be amended.

Workshop Sessions:
A session on climate storytelling led by Todd Olive had attendees think about and discuss what narrative we, as climate activists, are trying to achieve. Other sessions discussed carbon offsetting with Dr Kaviraj Singh (Founder and Managing Director, ESPL), Youth Activism with Climate Reality Warwick, and Systems Change with the WCNF Operations Team.

Statement of Progress 1:
Next, delegates gathered again to discuss their statements of progress. The delegates agreed on policies and targets that would keep warming below between 2.3-2.4℃ of warming and that would provide $8.7 billion of the $100 billion goal for the CAF Target. All delegates were immediately shocked and realised that much more drastic changes would need to be decided.

Only one amendment was suggested at this Statement of Progress, by India: “calls upon parties to commit to an act on water equality to ensure everyone has access to clean drinking water.” To this, all parties voted yes, and the amendment passed. If I were to critique this amendment, I think that it is a very optimistic and vague target and given the extent of the water security crisis simply “ensuring access” to clean water does not give enough requirements for it to be achieved.

Negotiations 2:
When circling around the different negotiation rooms, I found that Saudi Arabia was trying to recruit India into helping with their water filtration and access to clean water. Although I understand that both countries have issues with water security, India is not in the position to be granting aid for water when they are one of the countries with the most need. Saudi Arabia delegates stated that they will shift to and subsidise natural gas instead of implementing a carbon tax and tried to convince India to do the same. However, India wanted to implement a carbon tax because of how acutely they will be affected by climate change and pollution. Therefore, the delegates were contemplating taxing carbon per percentage point over a certain level of emissions because some coal-based GHGs will still be necessary for their economic development and for the immediate wellbeing of the population.

At the same time, the “Big Oil” lobbyists were out on the hunt, informing big emitters about their reliance on fossil fuels, and creating a group chat between Russia, China and Saudi Arabia to ensure that they supported each other in statements of progress regarding amendments.

Political Panel:
After this round of negotiations, WCNF held a political panel with MPs Jenny Edwards of the Green Party in Sussex, Jake Bonetta of the Labour Party in East Devon, and Stephen Richmond of the Liberal Democrat Party. It was very informative to hear the perspectives of those who have some say in the policy decisions in the UK. Some of the questions and answers discussed were as follows:

Jenny EdwardsJake BonettaStephen Richmond
What constraints/ limitations are there to climate policy? What is realistic action?
Currently, the UK spends just 0.01% of GDP on climate policies, when they should be spending at least 1%.
“We need a new realism that understands that this is a really serious situation” not just for the planet but for humans as well.
To be realistic, we need to be radical. A lot of change is needed for it to even make an impact, and it is realistic for this to be implemented because there is little choice.  The cost of mitigation should not be seen as a barrier, because the cost of the climate crisis will greatly outweigh them. The more worrying risks are political – some parties are not willing to spend money – and technological – to reach net-zero by 2050 we will need technology that is not yet invented.
 Is electability a problem when establishing domestic climate policy?  
The messaging is hard to get right. For example, the Green Party is the only UK party with climate at the top of their agenda but has very low electability. This affects long-term solutions.  Electability is a short-term issue because even though it is important for getting policy across, green policies are not something that deters people from voting for a party.“Environmental policies aren’t damaging electability, it is more how we sell it.”
The promise of these policies having no cost for the population is unrealistic, whereas the idea that there is no hope for the future, and we should pretend it isn’t happening makes the party unpopular.
 Would it be hard for the UK to enforce international commitments?  
All representatives agreed that because of the colonial and industrial history of Britain, there is no reasonable way we can force other countries to uphold their targets. However, due to the UK’s large economy, we can act as a leader and pioneer of the green transition by following through on policy promises. The UK also has a huge intellectual and research capacity which could help to make solutions cheaper globally.  

Statement of Progress 2:
For the final statement of progress for Day 2, delegates were able to agree on targets that would keep the climate under between 1.9-2.2 degrees of warming and which would raise $33.7bn for the CAF. This was a great improvement from earlier, especially for the warming targets, but it remains that the main obstacle will be fundraising, which is fundamental to helping developing countries be more resilient against climate change and for developing technologies that will help worldwide.

Amendments that passed included ones that urged “all countries to reconsider the time limits they have on emissions targets to the latest of 2045”, “funding contributions to the climate adaptation fund to reflect the inequality between the Global North and Global South”, and expansion of community engagement to marginalised groups. Some amendments did not pass, such as one that would “make it compulsory for each nation to achieve reforestation levels equivalent to 40% of their total GHGs” and another which “called all parties to invest 1% of fiscal budgets in carbon capture and storage research and technology”.

Day 3

Katy Greco – 31st October 2021

With protestors breaching progress meetings, rumours of Russia blackmailing the Ukraine, fake news, “accidental” war declarations, and general antics from the lobbyists, the final day of WCNF was dramatic, hectic, and wonderful.

Statement of Progress 1:
Anticipation was heavy in the air that morning. The first progress report was worrying: delegates’ negotiations had only managed to reach a projected +2.3 to +2.5°C temperature increase, and they weren’t even halfway to reaching their $100bn target for the annual Climate Adaptation Fund.

After a slew of passed and failed amendments, an indicative vote on the whole motion was conducted and the result was less than promising – 10 No’s to 9 Yes’s for a motion that can only pass unanimously. Needless to say, there was a long way to go.

Negotiating Session 1:
Much like the climate, it was clear that things were heating up. A group of developing nations and small islands states had teamed up and were pressuring Germany and the UK to pledge greater financial support, and murmurs of a potential peace treaty between Russia and Ukraine sparked rumours of blackmail (a fire undoubtedly stoked by the lobbyists who, despite having been barred from the negotiating room, watched on with glee as the confusion unfolded).
“Big Oil” lobbyist, Julian Jaggs, stated that “they banned us from rooms for being too good at our jobs” – an indicator of how difficult it can be to sway nations from the seductive clutches of money, power and the promise of stability.

Workshop sessions:
Students had the opportunity to hear from Dr Marta Guerriero (Associate Professor in GSD, Warwick) on Climate Justice and Inequality, Professor Michael Bradshaw (Professor of Global Energy, WBS) on The Energy Transition, Dr Vangelis Pitidis (Research Fellow in Politics and International Studies, Warwick) on Cities and Climate Resilience, or from Warwick Enterprise on Sustainable Enterprises.

Statement of Progress 2:
The earlier alliance between developing nations and small island states had culminated in Amendment 12 which said that “The developing nations of India, Indonesia, Kiribati, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa, Dominican Republic, Brazil and Ukraine call upon China, Canada, Germany, the UK, and Italy to pledge to be carbon neutral by 2045” and that those nations should also “jointly contribute 50% of the total 100 billion target for the Climate Adaptation Fund”
Unsurprisingly, as it was being proposed by a near majority of the delegations, both parts of the amendment passed. But the glimmer of hope offered by Amendment 12 was quickly quashed by the announcement that projected temperature increases had barely budged since the morning – we were still looking at a +2.3 to +2.4°C rise by 2100. And the CAF had only reached a feeble $46bn.

Final Negotiating Session:
Tensions had reached their peak. Brazil was refusing to contribute any more to the Climate Adaptation Fund, and Nigeria’s plan for their emissions to peak in 2070 – 10 years after the rest of the world would already be carbon neutral – was causing quite the stir.

Negotiations intensified over how much money some of the wealthier nations could actually contribute to the CAF, and somehow, amid the shouting and mayhem, they managed to secure a combined $89bn from China, the UK, Italy, Germany, Russia, and the US!

Just before the final results were revealed, delegates had one last chance to frantically negotiate and submit their last-minute emergency amendments. After the eleventh-hour adjustments, it was time to vote on the motion. They did it – the motion passed unanimously!

Final position statement:
And at last, the moment of truth arrived… After all their efforts, how would the WCNF 2021 delegates’ motion perform in the simulation? We waited with excitement and apprehension. Students had managed to negotiate a 2.1°C temperature increase by 2100 and a $105.2 billion annual Climate Adaption Fund! While it wasn’t quite the 1.5°C we had hoped for, delegates had still outperformed current world leaders whose policies are forecasted to result in a 2.4°C increase by 2100, and ultimately, as the WCNF President said in his closing speech, “when it comes to the climate crisis, every fraction of a degree counts”. 

Header image by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay
All photographs from WCNF Marketing

One thought on “Warwick Climate Negotiation Forum: Students for a Better Future

Add yours

  1. Interesting article on the three days. Challenges going forward will include how much of the promised £100 billion gets spent on worthwhile projects to reduce the impact of human activity contributing to climate change. Also worth giving thought to how the climate is changing itself, without human activity and what impact natural global warming will have on low lying and costal communities. Knowing this may help inform initiatives that may be needed to support these communities

    Liked by 1 person

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