On November 7, 2015, McGill’s Post Graduate Students' Society and Students' Society of McGill University hosted a climate negotiation simulation in advance of the potentially historic Paris climate negotiations in December 2015 (CoP21). Called the "McGill UNF3C", this event was rooted around the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
TISED , the ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques , the PGSS, the SSMU, and McGill's Office of Sustainability were proud supporters for this event.
Benefits to engineers/architects/planners
Engineers, architects and urban planners benefited for this event in the folllowing ways:
- Negotiation, Consensus Building, Navigating Legal Matters, Multidiscip. Collaboration
-Exposure to Ramifications of Climate Change on Professional Career
- What is the impact of climate change? How can I bring value to the world?
The risk of "severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems" (IPCC, 2014) resulting from global climate change is an unavoidable reality that practicing professionals must wake up to. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of the Parties (CoP21) is a flagship event meant to address the challenges posed by climate change at a high level by bringing together the nations of the world to agree on ways to tackle this problem in a fair, equitable and effective manner. Indeed, major trends defining the work of engineers, architects and urban planners (renewable energy development, fossil fuel divestment, resource efficiency, green building, progressive urban planning, etc.) are being shaped by the policies and strategies being negotiated at events such as the COP21. Holding a simulation of this sort builds awareness for climate change among engineers, architects and planners, and primes their mind to follow subsequent developments more intently. In addition to the value of exposure and awareness for current events bearing such farreaching implications, the simulation underscores and reinforces important working skills pertinent to negotiation, consensus building, nuanced text interpretation, multidisciplinary collaboration, and more. Beyond just the scope of climate change, these are invaluable skills for engineers, architects and planners in their working careers that may not otherwise be acquired during their traditional education; for example, matters pertaining to contract structuring, navigating legal matters, negotiating with clients and reaching agreements in potentially complex and multilayered situations.
Engineers, architects and urban planners are well positioned to play an important role in tackling the challenges posed by climate change by virtue of the fact that climate change is very much a multilevel design problem. In fact, their careers as practicing professionals will almost undoubtedly be marked by the implications of global climate change, directly or indirectly. Whether or not future professionals are adequately equipped to deal with these challenges is nevertheless uncertain, particularly given the traditionally slow adaptation of university curriculum. We were therefore thrilled to join the Trottier Institute of Sustainability in Engineering and Design in their mission to fill some of these critical gaps through the organization of this climate negotiation simulation.
Participating in the COP21 is surely an enlightening experience that invites professionals to action; however, for the most part, it is an event held behind closed doors and beyond the reach of the vast majority of the population. Our aim was to render this experience more accessible and to bring climate action to the forefront of our collective attention. As Jeffrey D. Sachs (Columbia, Earth Institute) put it aptly at the recent MIT Solve Inauguration, attention on these matters is fundamentally important, and they need to command more of our brainpower than the latest widely televised NBA game or Kardashian scandal, for example.
Another key element to the design of our simulation was to bring together students from a wide array of educational backgrounds. The motivation behind this is that climate change is a complex global problem that cannot be resolved by any one discipline. Engineers, architects and urban planners need to be equipped to solve complex problems collaboratively with other professionals. This means being able to understand how others think and to recognize, consolidate and remedy any disparities to make meaningful, productive advances. Fortunately, we did not have to push too much for diversity in our participants; however, we were diligent in reaching out to a wide audience.
With respect to skillbuilding, the nuanced language of the agreement and communication lapses represented barriers for effective participation for engineers, architects and planners. In fact, this was either observed by the session chairs or expressed to us after the simulation. Whereas the engineers had the upper hand in making sense of the implication of technicalities such as zero emissions versus net zero emissions, it seemed that students with a background in law or management had the upper hand to interpret the text and negotiate an agreement. I believe this observation reflects a reality that many practicing professionals can attest to (more than just a stereotype). An experience of this sort is therefore very valuable because the more students are aware of their shortfalls in pivotal situations requiring multidisciplinary collaboration, the more proactive they can be in working to overcome these frustrating barriers to decisive collective action. Overall, the strengths and shortfalls observed highlight the beauty of bringing so many disciplines around the same table to negotiate a complex, common and highly important subject. Engaging professionals of all backgrounds repeatedly in these sorts of exercises, away from siloed learning common in traditional curriculum, would be tremendously valuable in fostering professionals that work collaboratively toward comprehensive solutions that tackle the world's most pressing challenges. We take pride in the fact that this event brought together people that ordinarily wouldn’t come together.
The simulation highlights the benefits of interactive, experiential learning. Negotiating the text was a challenging undertaking; however, the response was overwhelmingly positive and engagement of the delegates was high.
Members on organizing committee with engineering background: (4) (Amir, Joachim, Mehrnoosh, Daniel)
NGO participants :
- Forestry sector (Frédéric Clerc; practicing professional in forestry sector)
- Renewable energy sector expert (Rob Andrews; practicing professional in solar energy sector)
- Indigenous Persons (Jennifer Gobby; PhD Candidate, indigenous resistance to resource exploitation)
- Climate research (Guillaume Lord; PhD Economics, BSc Physics)
- Fossil fuel sector (Ingrid Hoffmann, Elise Hoffmann; Model UN experience)
Diversity of Participants :
We were proud to host individuals joining us from Ottawa and Quebec City specifically for this event. Students outside of McGill joined us from: Queens, Bishops, UQAM, ETS, HEC.
Also joining from : Ouranos, Collectif de la société civile québécoise COP21, Environment Canada
Overall the event was a great turnout for all the participants who had no prior or very little knowledge of climate change and the climate negotiations. Participants developed knowledge of the basic background knowledge on climate change science, the risks associated with it, the nations who are harmed the most by this issue, the coalitions and their role in bringing Paris negotiations to a final agreement or turning it down.
The participants were given documents and briefs to prepare prior to the day of the event. Often these references and materials noted the engineering projects in green technologies and renewable energies applied in various countries to adapt to or reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hence, participants were expected to become familiarized with some of the novel technologies and policies relevant to climate policies during preparation for the mock negotiations. The role of clean energies was emphasized during negotiations which emphasizes the need for young engineers to fill the technology gap or attempting to apply the existing technologies into the real world issues. The negotiations and roundtable discussion familiarized the students with complications of such settings and decision makings. Many of discussions lead to the fact that the developing or underdeveloped countries do not have adequate financial and technological means to mitigate or adapt to the climate change. The negotiations demonstrated the significance of engineers, architects, and urban planners to develop greener technologies and more sustainable in the context of developing countries.
In addition, the event was a chance for participants who are interested in startups and entrepreneurship by emphasizing their great responsibility with sustainable development and design. Decision makers are in need of the most uptodate sustainable solutions, technologies and engineers that can facilitate this process. Thus, it provided an opportunity for participants to identify what they can bring for a transition to low carbon economies in the context of the 2015 Paris Climate negotiations.