Tread Lightly: Global Climate Change Debate
Global climate change policy, determined through the Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).has been largely ineffective in stemming the growing tide of GHGs being released into the atmosphere. World leaders have convened at the COP many times without developing effective policies and strategies to stabilise the atmospheric concentration of GHGs at a level that would prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system. In the words of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, “the blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge, but all economies know that the only sensible long term way of developing is to do it on a sustainable basis.”
In this lesson, students will adopt the roles of some of the major stakeholders in global climate change negotiations in order to get a sense of what is at stake for different groups at the COP.
Time Required: 2 class periods
This lesson is designed to help students understand:
• The many obstacles and challenges that hinder arriving at an international consensus on a complicated, multifaceted issue such as climate change.
• The rationale behind different countries’ positions and agendas related to climate change.
• How climate change will disproportionally impact countries in certain regions and socioeconomic circumstances.
• The magnitude of the climate change negotiations and the urgency of the need to develop strong global climate change legislation.
• How the Tread Lightly project fits into the broader global context.
1. Divide students into 4 teams and assign each group one of the 4 stakeholder groups described in handout A. Distribute to each group its respective component of the handout.
2. Provide students with a list of questions to answer in order to prepare for the negotiations. Suggested questions are:
• What do you want to get out of the negotiations?
• Which countries are your allies?
• What is at stake if you do not achieve your goals?
• Which countries stand in the way of getting what you want?
3. Have students develop a list of key talking points as well as an opening statement.
4. Once the groups have had time to prepare, commence the negotiations with the following statement:
“We have gathered here today to decide upon a global agreement in response to the climate crisis. UN climate change scientists have recommended that we reduce the global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide to 350 ppm. However, it is up to you, as leaders of the world’s nations, to decide how to proceed from here. We will now hear opening statements.”
5. Have students share their opening statements and then facilitate the negotiations.
6. Engage the class in a group discussion to debrief about the experience. Suggested discussion questions are:
• Why are some parts of the globe more affected by climate change than others? What are some of the reasons for this?
• What changes will take place in different regions of the globe if climate change persists?
• What are the COP and the UNFCCC and why are they important?
• What are some of the difficulties involved in creating an international climate agreement?
• What are potential sources of conflict at the upcoming COP, such as obstacles to setting hard targets for emissions reductions?
• Is it fair to ask one country to sacrifice economic growth to ensure the survival of another country?
7. Distribute handout B at the end of the period for students to reflect upon during their own time.
Handout A: Global Climate Change Debate Roles Handout B: The True Costs of Consumption
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