As a child, my first introduction to the United Nations (UN) came from a film called The Interpreter featuring Nicole Kidman as (you guessed it) an interpreter. While the UN wasn’t the primary focus on the movie, 10-year old Meg was still left with a feeling of awe at an organization so committed to global cooperation – a feeling only furthered by my participation in a mock UN negotiation last week.
My fellow students and I are learning more and more about the influence of the UN, specifically the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This convention focuses on climate change mitigation and adaptation. Agreements like the Paris Agreement have been developed through these conferences to propel us into a cleaner, more environmentally stable future. To put our knowledge to the test, my classmates and I staged a 3-hour mock UN.
In this mock UN, we quickly learned that battling priorities can make these negotiations incredibly difficult. I adopted the role of climate activist and while I could easily bring countries to the negotiating table, it was often hard to keep them there. I represented the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and did not have deep pockets. So I quickly experienced the power of profit and struggled to pull countries away from fossil fuels.
As WWF, my priorities were to reduce fossil fuel usage and protect wildlife. The overall goal was to keep global warming to 2˚C or lower. Countries aimed to do this by increasing afforestation (planting trees where there weren’t any in the past) and reducing carbon emissions. By the end of three rounds of negotiations and a great deal of drama, we were able to keep warming to 1.9˚C. However, the deals we made and the rate at which change would have to occur were highly optimistic.
For example, I entered into an agreement with Canada in which the country would
- Invest $1 billion in wind energy
- Not increase the number of oil pipelines running to the United States
- Use recycled materials to reduce the carbon emissions associated with the Dakota Access pipeline
Would the WWF had been able to get Canada to enter into such an agreement in the real world? I don’t know. But I do know that this would be a controversial arrangement and could easily be derailed by harsh economics.
What became clear to me through this exercise was not only the international nature of the UN, but also the domestic impact of agreements. If countries follow through on their promises, then there are real, direct, and fast acting implications for the citizens of those countries. I realized how much more engaged I want to be in this international debate. My country, the United States, has not upheld its end of the Paris Agreement. Personally, this is not what I want to see. I want to see increased engagement with climate change mitigation and I don’t intend to watch the UN like it’s a movie – I intend to get active, starting with the upcoming UNFCCC conference in Poland.