Two students of the MSc International Management / CEMS programme at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) have offered advice to national representatives taking part in the major United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris in November. The advice from Ruben Schultz and Jonas Flake is based on their experience – and that of more than 100 other master students – at the Model UNFCCC conference in Switzerland earlier this summer. 

The UNFCCC is the largest and best-known international treaty for environmental issues, which was drafted and signed in 1992. There are currently around 200 nations that regularly meet at the Conference of Parties (COP) to review implementation of actions plans, and assess progress towards goals set in the protocols.

In advance of the next COP in Paris, 105 international master students from six European universities gathered for two days of intense negotiations in May. Their discussions modelled those taking place in Paris in November later this year. Their aim was to reach a legally binding agreement to meet global targets for climate change.

Viability of UNFCCC

The real COP meeting in Paris in November is a crucial one; it is set to shape the future of the viability of the UNFCCC. If nations again fail to agree on legally binding targets, as they did in Copenhagen in 2009, many believe the COPs will be discontinued.

Ruben Schultz and Jonas Flake’s experience of being students at the executive campus of the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland is described by several contributors to the blog. They came from Corvinus University, Budapest; University of Cologne in Germany; University of St. Gallen, Switzerland; ESADE Business School Barcelona in Spain; Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi Milan, in Italy; Vienna University of Economics and Business, in Austria; and Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM).

Prepared to defend

Each student was assigned a country, NGO, or industry group to represent in the negotiations. RSM sent students from two programmes; the MSc Global Business & Sustainability, and the MSc International Management / CEMS.

“The students were exceptionally well prepared to defend the interests of their countries and parties,” commented Schultz. They had been preparing for weeks by gathering statistics about each country, about CO2 emissions and by studying the negotiation strategies that had been used at similar negotiations in the past.

Before the groups of students even got to Switzerland, coalitions of countries with similar interests had already formed in an attempt to strengthen voices during negotiations. “But once we arrived in St. Gallen, discussions really took off,” said Schultz.

Complex issues and island conflicts

The complexity of the issue is the number one difficulty, said Flake. “Complexity does not simply refer to the technicalities and scientific nature of climate change, but also to the strong conflicts of interests between those nations present.

“Each nation faces different, drastic consequences from climate change. For example, India cannot agree to define 2016 as the greenhouse gas emissions peak year, a definition essential to Small Island States – the low-lying small island developing states. Establishing such a definition for India may lead to a drastic increase in poverty. But on the other hand, failure to define 2016 as the peak year would result in the Small Island States succumbing to rising sea levels.”

Secret strategies and compromises

“These issues were made evident during the negotiations in St. Gallen, but are exactly the same as those politicians face in real life,” Schultz commented, adding that it is impossible for all nations to reach the goals they had set themselves, and sacrifices have to be made. In the context of the role-play in Switzerland, he said every nation drafted a secret strategy in which they expressed the compromises they were willing to make.

“Another important negotiation strategy we used was making agreements that were ‘off the record’,” said Schultz. “These were constructed during brief pauses, which were called for by the chairperson or the representative of a participating country and were used to discuss some topic on a more informal basis. After the event, everyone acknowledged that these agreements helped significantly to move the negotiations along, especially during an event where time is of the essence.”

Advice from students to the Paris conference

Flake and Schultz were keen to pass on their advice to the representatives taking part in the November conference in Paris. “We students managed to come to a legally binding agreement, so we think that gives us an opportunity to give advice for the real UNFCCC conference in Paris in November.” Their recommendations are:

1. All parties must be aware that climate change is a serious issue

“Everyone needs to realise the seriousness of the climate change issue; this became evident during our discussions. We understood that human lives and the existence of future generations are at stake – which make coming to an agreement the only possible option. It is important that all the nations taking part in Paris are made aware of this. In fact, in our negotiations in Switzerland, it meant that even China was pushing for a legally binding agreement towards the end of the negotiations.

2. Focus on off-the-record agreements

Do this before the event starts and during breaks so that conversations during the official working sessions do not get stuck, and all parties are aware of the needs of others.

3. Understand that CO2 reductions and economic growth are not mutually exclusive

It is an important point that many of us had to learn. It is no longer the case that reducing emissions means the economy of the country will also struggle. Countries such as Germany and Norway have shown that green energy can be profitable too.

4. A protocol must be legally binding with pre-set punishments

There was no punishment for not complying with the Kyoto protocol in 1997, but this needs to change for those failing to meet the goals in the new protocol. We discussed this at length in St. Gallen. And we as students feel that if we could come to a legally binding agreement, then so should the parties coming together in Paris. It is possible.

Feeling the real life implications

Although the Model UNFCCC conference was only a role-play, all participants realised the real-life implications, said Jonas. “We all took our roles seriously and acted as responsible representatives. We worked day and night. We researched and learned all the technicalities and the required knowledge. And most importantly, we came to an agreement. If the students could do it, then by taking into account the aforementioned recommendations, the representatives in Paris should be able to come to an agreement too. We expect them to.”

RSM students are featured in a video of the Model UNFCCC in St Gallen which can be seen online.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top-ranked business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers.

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