On the same day that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon challenged students at the University of Maryland to channel their energy and knowledge towards addressing global climate change, 35 students from seven universities assembled to do just that. The seventh annual Inter-University Climate Change Negotiation Simulation (ICCN) drew students from across the region to the University of Maryland for a unique opportunity to experience the work of international climate negotiations firsthand.

The event, which took place on October 14-15th, was structured to resemble a convening of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties, which is a gathering of UN countries tasked with formulating a global position on climate issues. Participants were assigned one of the 196 party countries that will be participating in COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco, this November. Representing the interests of their country, students negotiated about climate induced Loss & Damage and the structure of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

This year’s ICCN benefitted from the rapid ratification of the Paris Agreement, shifting the focus of COP22 from deliberation to implementation. Participants were thus able to use their creativity and ingenuity to setting in motion the promises that Ban Ki-moon called “unstoppable, inevitable, and irreversible.”

In addition to the special event featuring the UN Secretary General, ICCN participants were also treated to talks by UMD School of Public Policy Professor and Center for Global Sustainability Director Dr. Nathan Hultman, Kingdom of Morocco Counselor for Congress, Political and Multilateral Affairs Boutaina Ben Moussa, and School of Public Policy (SPP) PhD student Poorti Sapatnekar. The event was organized by a group of student leaders from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, the George Washington University, and the Washington University of St. Louis. The event was co-sponsored by the School of Public Policy, Center for Global Sustainability, Sustainability at GW, and the GW Sustainability Collaborative.

The negotiations often involved developing language to ensure that countries could agree to the text without placing an unfair burden on their citizens. Rachel Westrate of the Washington University of St. Louis, who facilitated one of the sessions, noted that participants’ ability to “really grapple with the issues and especially stand by their country’s position I think was very interesting. I think people even under the peer pressure of a lot of different countries in the room were able to stick to their guns and say this is actually not something we’re willing to compromise on. By that same standard I was very impressed by the compromises that were able to get done in the text.”

Will Hackman, a student at Georgetown who represented the Russian Federation in the simulation explained his motivation for attending the event, saying ,“I am very passionate about climate change...I came to the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration student simulation competition (NASPAA) competition earlier this year. So that introduces me to everything that Maryland is doing in the realm of climate change, academics. So I knew this would be a great experience with a lot of really engaged professors and people.” Hackman added that he believes, “climate change is the biggest issue that human civilization has ever faced and we all need to come together and work very hard to make sure we get to 2 degrees celsius.”

Niraj Palsule, an Energy and Environment MPP student at UMD and one of the primary coordinators of the event described it as a difficult but rewarding experience: "For me, planning ICCN was a challenging and fun, and a very rewarding experience. The most satisfying part of ICCN was when participants clapped with exuberance as a single clause received unanimous agreement after two hours of nerve-wrecking negotiation for it. It was fun to be able to moderate sessions to ensure that they reached consensus. The challenging part, however, was creating a number of such clauses which would mimic real world tensions."

Participants left knowing their experience was valuable for their own perspective and for any future work they do in this field. As event speaker Poorti Sapatnekar, a SPP PhD student and former member of the UN Secretary General’s Climate Change Support Team, stated, “the power of civil society to influence leaders on climate change should not be underestimated.”