Liberty Middle School holds simulated climate summit

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Following the international Conference of Parties Climate Summit in Chile from Dec. 2 to 13, students at Liberty Middle School held a simulated summit of their own on Dec. 13.

The COP25 summit, which grew out of the Paris Climate Agreement, is organized by the United Nations. According to a press release from the school district, this year’s summit was considered a disappointment because the largest greenhouse gas emitters on the planet — China, the United States and India — offered little to nothing to curb emissions and help reach the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius or ideally 1.6 degrees Celsius. Under the Paris Climate Agreement, countries are expected to commit to more aggressive climate plans, known as nationally determined contributions.

The summit required students to conduct research, guided by science teachers. The groups set their own requirements for what they were willing to offer and what they thought they needed from the other groups. During the summit they constantly had to adapt those requirements as they negotiated deals, and as they had to account for deals between other groups. 

The students worked with unique software developed for the actual climate investigation. C-ROADS is developed by Climate Interactive, MIT, Ventana Systems and UML Climate Change Initiative. The name C-ROADS stands for “Climate Rapid Overview and Decision Support” simulator.

Six groups were represented at this year’s mock summit: United States, European Union, other developed countries, other developing countries, China and India. Their mission for the day: to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius or less by the year 2100.

Students engaged in two rounds of negotiations with the other country groups and submitted proposal statements that indicated their: emissions peak year, the year in which their reductions will begin, reduction rates, deforestation rates and afforestation rates. All of these proposals were inputted into C-ROADS software to see if their negotiations would have any impact on the global temperature increase. 

Also present and played by parents were members of the press corps, climate change activists and fossil fuel lobbyists. Since lobbyists have a history of buying influence, they were given a brown paper bag of $100,000 Grand candy bars with which to bribe the delegates. 

“The goal is to keep temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius as shown by the C-Roads software,” science teacher Vince DeJesus said. “After the first round of negotiations, their pledges had lowered it from the ‘business as usual’ 4.3 degrees to 2.2 degrees. A definite improvement but not the goal.” 

At the end of the second round, negotiations broke down when India felt they were being pushed to make concessions beyond their capabilities and voided all of their agreements. In response, the rest of the delegates stuck to their agreements but wanted to declare war on India. While initial data seemed to indicate that they were going to achieve their goal, their impasse resulted in a loss of momentum and they only achieved 2.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

“This was our fourth year for the event and it’s always a highlight for us,” DeJesus said. “This year’s group was one of our most focused. They even continued to negotiate during lunch. I really like that they have to think on their feet during the negotiations. They usually come in with the idea that it’s all going to follow the plan that they made during their event prep. Then they find out that their plan doesn’t mesh with the plans of the other groups. They have to adapt. Renegotiate. Every time someone makes a deal the numbers change and they have to go back in and refine their agreements. If they can’t think on their feet everything falls apart.”

One of the students said, “The climate summit was really enjoyable, and the simulation showed us how climate change isn’t caused by one country and it needs to be a global effort to combat the impact we have had on our planet. I had a really fun but frustrating time negotiating with my fellow classmates.”

“Even the negotiations breakdown at the end of the day was a valuable learning experience for them. It was probably the closest they came to a ‘real life’ situation,” DeJesus said.

Photos Courtesy of WOSD