Five Key Lessons from ESPM c169

World map

ESPM professor Kate O’Neill made last November’s Warsaw-based climate change conference the centerpiece of her fall International Environmental Politics 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. After studying their assigned nation’s population, economy, politics, and vulnerability to climate change, the students held mock treaty negotiations. Breakthroughs gleans five key lessons right from the students.

  • Reza Abedi says the experience helped him understand why setbacks happen. “What I came out with . . . is an understanding of why we don’t see the negotiating outcomes we would hope for. I don’t think there’s enough trust between countries to uphold their promises to take action.”

  • Elizabeth Kent’s European Union team found that a mixture of empathy and flexibility was needed. “We learned very early on that you can only anticipate so much. . . . People make quick, emotional, and sometimes surprising decisions, and you have to be able to react and respond. It became clear that the more one can understand others’ motivations and objectives, the more effective negotiations will be.”

  • For Julie Scrivner, it was a valuable lesson in power dynamics. “I was surprised by how willing countries were to work together who had little leverage, and how stubborn powerful countries could be in the face of opposition.”

  • Showmanship highlighted how those without influence have to be creative and flexible to get the kind of attention others take for granted. Some students dressed in clothes representative of their assigned nations. A delegate for the tiny island nation of Tuvalu brought a scuba mask to the second day of negotiations, declaring, “We will go underwater, and it’s on you guys!”

  • For Daniel Sparks, the primary lesson was about the importance of leadership and the power of persuasion. “I realized that sitting quietly in the corner will not accomplish anything. You have to be confident in your positions and really sell them to other people.”