We’ll always have Paris: Results of climate change game do not bode well
HOUGHTON — In the Paris agreement on climate, which took effect in 2016, nations agreed to take actions to limit the rise in global temperatures by 2100 to below 2 degrees Celsius — and to take further steps to reduce the increase even more, to 1.5 percent.
But signing onto that goal requires at least theoretical commitment to steps to meet it: pledging money, planting trees or cutting emissions.
Students, faculty and community members at Michigan Technological University got their own look at the process in a climate role-playing game called “World Climate” on Wednesday night.
Teams represented the major players in climate negotiations — from larger greenhouse producers such as the U.S., China and the European Union to developing countries. Buzzing from table to table were outside interests — environmental activists, fossil fuel lobbyists and the media.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology created software enabling groups to plug in numbers to make quick calculations of their impact on rising temperatures. Tech chemistry professor Sarah Green, who has been doing the activity in her class for two years, decided to open it up to other classes and the public as well.
“The last two years, we definitely did not get below 2 degrees,” she said. “We got to 2.5 or 2.6.”
Teams make commitments on several topics, such as what year reductions start, the percentage of new trees being grown and contributions to the Global Climate Fund.
Students learn some of the difficulties of negotiating, and also learn more about the interests of other counties, Green said.
In the case of India, the players are informed of competing interests. Clean energy could reduce air pollution and give India more political clout. But reducing emissions by too much could threaten the country’s ability to raise people out of poverty.
“If they’re playing India, you could just sit in the U.S. and say, ‘India’s growing too fast,'” she said. “You get to try on other hats, walk in different shoes.”
After the first round of negotiations, teams had made commitments sufficient to keep the global increase in temperature to 2.6 degrees.
A good start, Green said. But not enough to prevent a 1-meter rise in sea level. That was bad news for the developing countries.
“You guys are underwater,” Green said, covering the group with a blue tarp.
So the groups went at it again. Some commitments grew unequivocally stronger. Others were more nuanced, such as taking donations from fossil fuel companies in exchange for greater logging.
After 20 minutes of tradeoffs and verbal jousting, the groups reconvened to update their promises.
As a result, the figure dropped — all the way to 2.3 degrees.
“The 2-degree limit that they want to try to make, it’s going to take a lot of efforts from literally everyone in the world,” participant Morgan Bolstad said afterward. “It’s not something one or two countries can do.”
And even the 2.3-degree mark was reached by students more predisposed to reach climate goals. Benjamin Reuss, a participant with the European Union, contrasted the U.S.’s commitments Wednesday with its announced withdrawal from the accords in 2020.
“That’s pretty unrealistic, based on the current state of things,” he said.
In a debriefing afterward, students said they would have liked more variables, such as carbon sequestration. They also would have liked to have more of a scale for what their number commitments would entail.
“If I do this next year, I’ll try to get more data,” Green said. “When the delegates actually go to these things, they have a big, fat briefing book that they read on the airplane on the way over.”