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Making Progress Under Pressure II: How C-ROADS Can Train Better Negotiators


While a recent negotiation workshop put a spin on the En-ROADS Climate Action Simulation, a new course on responsible negotiation at the European University Institute’s School of Transnational Governance has now left its mark on the C-ROADS World Climate Simulation—a mark that could make the activity even more useful to today’s climate negotiators.

Representatives from the United Nations are addressing a recent climate disaster.

Delegates from different countries are harboring hidden agendas. World leaders are forming unlikely alliances. Activists are chaining themselves to tables. Reporters are scrambling for sound bites.

This might sound like a scene from a past Conference of the Parties (COP) climate negotiation, but it actually describes a COP of the future—one simulated at the European University Institute’s School of Transnational Governance (EUI STG). There, in an imagined 2030, students capped a weeklong Responsible Negotiations Across Borders course using a creative adaptation of the World Climate Simulation—a game originally developed by MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative, Climate Interactive, and the UMass Lowell Climate Change Initiative.

Setting the Stage for a Simulated Negotiation

Responsible Negotiations Across Borders is a weeklong course at EUI STG, where students learn the building blocks of successful negotiation and experience increasingly complex negotiation situations aimed at bringing them closer to the real thing. The adapted World Climate Simulation was the culminating event. A day-long experience, this “COP 35 Negotiation Simulation” had five learning goals:

  1. Support responsible negotiation in crisis
  2. Grasp multistakeholder, multilevel, and multicultural complexity
  3. Support decision-making, where agents have different agendas and preferences
  4. Learn power dynamics and influence techniques within and between delegations
  5. Overcome deadlocks and time pressures

Building on the World Climate Simulation

The World Climate Simulation is a role-playing exercise of a present-day UN climate change negotiation. Roles include the UN Secretary General, delegates from countries or negotiating blocs of countries, and representatives from outside groups. Pledges on emissions reductions, deforestation, afforestation, and funding are made between rounds of negotiation and tracked with the C-ROADS simulator. The goal is to keep global average temperature rise by 2100 below 2°C, and as close to 1.5°C as possible, in 2-3 hours.

COP 35 Negotiation Simulation in progress

Credit: EUI STG

The COP 35 Negotiation Simulation was a significant extension and enhancement of the original game. From the setting, to the number of roles, to the information provided in advance, it took place over an 8-hour day, complete with a 1-hour working lunch—the type that would typically happen at a real COP.

Setting: A COP for the Future

Inspired by the speculative fiction of The Ministry for the Future, the COP 35 Negotiation Simulation was set in 2030, where a deadly heat wave has just killed 20 million in India. This was done to simulate a crisis situation that could focus participants on what was at stake if they failed.  It also accentuated climate injustice and gave cause to India and other victims of climate disasters to ask for reparation funds from countries historically responsible for most emissions.

Roles: Greater Representation

The new version increased the number of roles to 35, significantly expanding the diversity of opinions and overall power dynamics. Like the original game, it was possible for a role to be shared (40 participants played 35 roles). Here are ways roles differed from the original World Climate Simulation:

Instructions: More Details, More Realistic Negotiations

As in World Climate, each state actor in the COP 35 Negotiation Simulation received a character sheet including information about their nation’s climate goals, actions, opportunities, and information about the global landscape; however, sheets were adjusted to reflect a futuristic 2030 scenario using existing projections where data existed or, in their absence, inference.

State actors were also given graphs from the Climate Action Tracker or graphs pertaining to other issues. For non-state actors, sheets included additional information about their role, accountability, and other key actors. Participants received instructions one day in advance. Only the UN team was directly briefed by the organizers ahead of time.

Negotiation: From Start To Finish

After opening remarks and agenda-setting by the UN Co-Chairs, the negotiation went as follows. Additions to the original World Climate Simulation format are highlighted, with notes:

1 / In World Climate, non-state actors participate fully from the beginning, and do not have separate sessions. 2 / While journalists participate and put out statements during World Climate, they do not have a designated place on the agenda. 3 / In World Climate, only plenaries and pledges are repeated. 4 / World Climate, normally running 2-3 hours, usually takes place before or after meal; however, in some instances food (and tables and chairs) are provided to developed nations and corporate lobbyists, while developing nations and activists are provided less or no food, and given no table and/or no seats as a proxy for unbalanced power. 5 / With time limitations, World Climate may or may not go into a third round.


Coalition-Building: More Time to Make Friends

The format of the COP 35 Negotiation Simulation provided more opportunities for rich interactions between parties. From China and Russia proposing Erasmus-inspired exchange programs, to developing countries creating a reparation fund for Indonesia, Brazil, Fiji, and Nigeria and an immediate emergency fund for India, to the formation of a Franco-German Alliance, the benefits of this all-day experience were evident in the strong coalitions built.

The Unexpected: A Dramatic Turn of Events

As is often the case with World Climate, you never fully know what to expect until participants jump into their roles. At the start of the negotiation, developing nations refused to make pledges until developed countries first made theirs regarding funds for loss and damage.  At one point, climate activists, who weren’t allowed to participate in the formal plenary sessions, chained themselves to the negotiation table and demanded a seat—a demand that was eventually met. The press further ignited the flames of passion with live commentary and breaking news stories bearing headlines like, “Prepare for hell, 2.7 incoming, and no plan ahead of COP35.”  

Climate Activists demand a seat at the table.

Credit: EUI STG

The Final Agreement: A World Limited to 1.9°C of Warming

Successfully agreeing on actions that align with the Paris Agreement is the desired outcome of any simulation game with C-ROADS. Nevertheless, the 1.9°C agreement reached at the COP 35 Negotiation Simulation and codified in a Memorandum of Understanding was still full of surprises. China and Russia emerged as leaders, pushing to create a new international organization to oversee the agreements, as well as a new Global Climate Fund, with the Agricultural Bank of China as a primary investor. 

The Debrief: Feedback Leads to Immediate Improvements

The debrief at the end of the role-playing game is an important opportunity for participants to fully process the experience.  They’re able to step out of their role and back into their own shoes and reflect on what worked well and what might be improved. During the debrief, the participants suggested the following changes that have already been made by the teaching team at EUI STG.

Feedback / Improvements

  • More African representation.

    Created new roles for the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa.

  • More Middle Eastern representation.

    Created new roles for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and a journalist from Al-Jazeera.

  • Clarification on rules of procedure.

    Developed an overview of what participants can and can’t do now provided up front in the facilitator’s guide.

  • More detailed country profiles.

    Built dashboards for each country’s debt profile, political profile (with future projections fabricated), and energy data.

Next steps: Wide Dissemination, Modularity, and Connecting to En-ROADS

The COP35 Negotiation Simulation is ready for dissemination in its current format. It will be used again in Responsible Negotiations Across Borders, and ways to adapt it for courses with policy fellows and executive masters students are being explored. 

In order to make the simulation work in more scenarios, however, modularity could help. There is room for options that fall somewhere between the original 2-3 hour, 10-or-so role World Climate and the 8-hour, 40-role COP35 Negotiation, and the team is exploring them.

Finally, in light of work done by the Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government to similarly adapt the existing Climate Action Simulation using En-ROADS, there’s an opportunity for a mash-up. The developers of both adaptations are now in touch.

COP 28: Because There’s No Time Like The Present

The COP35 Negotiation Simulation was a wild success with students, but simulation has the power to influence real negotiations right now. That’s why the team is also exploring opportunities to train delegates ahead of COP 28 in Dubai, UAE. After all, as powerful as imaging a future COP might be, the world needs decisive climate action yesterday.


Alain Lempereur

Alain Lempereur

Alan B. Slifka Professor of Conflict Resolution, Brandeis University

Kalypso Nicolaïdis

Kalypso Nicolaïdis

Chair in Global Affairs, EUI STG and Professor, University of Oxford

Adrien Bradley

Adrien Bradley

Teaching Associate and Teaching Assistant Coordinator, EUI STG

Costanza Bindi

Costanza Bindi

Research Assistant, Masters Candidate, EUI STG

Tyala Ifwanga

Tyala Ifwanga

Research Assistant, Masters Candidate, EUI STG

Sarah Tegas

Sarah Tegas

Research Assistant, Masters Candidate, EUI STG

For more info Krystal Noiseux Associate Director, Climate Pathways Project