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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Archive  /  2016  /  January 2016  /  Negotiating global climate change

Negotiating global climate change

UCL Geography students apply the World Climate Exercise

Negotiating global climate change

As global leaders gathered in Paris in early December to wrangle a legally-binding agreement for a safe global climate, UCL geography students embarked upon the same challenge.

Third year and MSc students, mostly taking the Global Environmental Change module, participated in simulations of the UNFCCC COP21 negotiations, using materials and software designed by Climate Interactive. This World Climate Exercise has been played in 45 different countries, from the United States to Vanuatu, but it was the first time it had been held at UCL, and was the largest scale simulation conducted in London.

Participants were presented with the goal of reaching a global policy agreement to control atmospheric carbon and keep global temperature below 2oC. They were allocated to teams representing geographical regions (e.g. USA; the EU; Other Developed Countries; China; India; Other Developing Countries), or key advocacy groups, such as fossil fuel lobbyists or climate activists.

During the workshop each region had to consider and negotiate:

  • Mitigation scenarios (i.e. agree with the other regions when their emissions would level off, when emissions would start to decline, and at what rate they would decline).
  • Whether they would continue to lose forests or undertake afforestation.
  • For developed countries, how much to contribute to the Global Green Fund, and what if any conditions would be attached. This led to some heated debates!


After each round of negotiations, data for each region was entered into C-Roads software, an award-winning climate simulation, which translates the mitigation data into future concentrations of CO2, global temperatures, sea-level rise and ocean acidification.

The first workshop was attended by one of the US-based designers of Climate Interactive, Ellie Johnston, who revealed that although the students had not reached the 2 degrees target, their pledges were currently closer to the mark than those of the actual Paris negotiations.

From the feedback after each workshop, most students had a much greater understanding of what COP21 was about, and how negotiations are undertaken.

And while the World Climate Exercise is much simpler than the real negotiations, it gave everyone a sense of the tension and drama of the global politics associated with the task of trying to limit CO2and global temperature increases, and perhaps, most importantly, how difficult the real negotiations are!