How to Engage People In Climate Change Negotiations? With Role Playing Games
For decades, scientists demonstrate the importance of mitigating climate change. A recent special report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that we must take immediate action to curb global warming. By 2030, the planet is expected to be 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer, which will cause severe impacts on weather, oceans, and agriculture. It will take ambitious, bold actions from governments to meet international climate goals to prevent these changes. However, traditional climate change communication has not been effective in conveying the urgency to a general audience.
World Climate is a mock United Nations negotiation that combines role-playing and computer simulations to bridge the communication gap. The game, created by Climate Interactive, was tested on a wide range of students, business leaders, environmental professionals and educators around the world. Participants select a nation to represent in a simulated version of a United Nations Framework Convention negotiation, in which they will specify Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for their countries. NDCs are targets set by each nation to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change according to the Paris Agreement goals.
While determining their NDCs, as in real negotiations, the participants must also seek to influence others in the best interest of their countries. After the first negotiation round, C-ROADS, a climate policy-modelling program designed for non-scientists, calculates how many degrees the planet would warm based on the chosen NDC scenario. Considering national interests, typically, the students’ NDCs do not meet the Paris Agreement target of keeping the world under a 2 degree Celsius average warming. After the simulation, the participants readjust their ambition-level and negotiate a second round.
Researcher Dr. Juliette Nicole Rooney-Varga and colleagues administered surveys to identify how effectively World Climate changed students’ sense of urgency in addressing climate change. They conducted pre-surveys and post-surveys to see if their perspectives had changed. Their results were impressive, with 95% of post-survey respondents saying their motivation to address climate change increased or stayed high, and 87% saying they wanted to learn more about solutions.
Students also gave testimonies that showed the impact the game had on them. The game made a high school student at Boston University Upward Bound feel “empowered because I’m a part [of] something bigger than me.” Meanwhile, an Executive MBA student from MIT said, “I am much more concerned now about the climate change, and much more aware about the specific actions each of us has to take to make a contribution into and have an impact on saving this world for our children.”
The researchers concluded that simulations like World Climate can be scaled up and are effective in catalyzing urgent and necessary science-based climate change action. The game made students realize both the complexities of climate change and of international negotiations.
World Climate uses simulations that are free and open-sourced. The game is already being implemented globally in schools and universities, especially in Europe and the United States. The next challenges are to make it accessible to adults and youth without access to education or technology, including in developing countries, and translating it to real-world action. Scaling up the program is an important step to make the World Climate simulation truly effective.
 The game was also co-developed MIT Sloan and UMass Lowell Climate Change Initiative since 2011.