December 2013 Archives
Classroom treaty talks speak volumes on climate politics
By Steve Hockensmith, UC Berkeley News Center
UC Berkeley announced recently that it had reduced its carbon emissions to 1990 levels two years earlier than expected, showing how quickly progress can be made — at least at the local level — in addressing climate change. Unfortunately, getting the world community to take significant action has proven far trickier, and a recent exercise in a Berkeley class demonstrates why.
Kate O’Neill, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, has been teaching international environmental politics since 1999. This year, she decided to make a simulated international climate-change conference the centerpiece of her fall course. Each of her 125 students was assigned one of 26 nations, chosen to represent a range of political and economic interests, from superpowers to some of the world’s smallest, poorest countries. The students then spent the semester studying and writing about their assigned nation’s population, economy, politics and vulnerability to climate change.
All that preparation was put to use last month, when the students were divided into four groups, each of which held its own mock treaty negotiations.
“It gave them a chance to really understand why it’s so difficult for countries to agree on climate change and what to do about it,” O’Neill says. “Plus it’s much more fun than having to write a long final essay.”
“It took the core concepts of the course and really made the students play them out,” adds one of O’Neill’s graduate-student instructors, Manisha Anantharaman, who served as moderator for one of the negotiation groups. “I think that’s really going to help them internalize what Kate’s been talking about this semester.”
posted December 13, 2013 9:58 AM