University holds Model UN conference on climate change

The University of Bedfordshire brought to life the buzz of high pressure negotiations when it hosted a Model UN conference on climate change.

Some 28 people, including University staff, pre-university students and members of Bedfordshire Climate Change Forum and the United Nations Association took part in the event at the Bedford campus

Model UN conferences are a role-play of UN meetings. Participants are assigned a UN Member State, research their country’s position on a selected topic then come together and enact the meeting, based on agreed rules of procedure.

A resolution is written, debated, negotiated and amended, in line with each country’s interests. 

Delegates at Bedfordshire’s World Climate Negotiation event were tasked to agree and commit to targets to reduce carbon emissions.

Dr Diana Pritchard, from the University’s Centre of Learning Excellence, said: “Teaching climate change presents a huge challenge. It is a complex issue and can seem abstract and, because it is scary, makes people feel overwhelmed or hopeless.

“This sort of event is a fun and interactive approach to learning about the world climate system and it increases motivation to change, get involved and influence policy making. Students get to practise debating, team work and leadership skills.”

Working in groups, participants were guided to formulate their negotiating strategy and talk to other teams to negotiate the best possible outcome that would keep global temperatures within the 2 deg C threshold (above pre-industrial levels).

This temperature increase has been defined by nations as being an acceptable level beyond which the risks for catastrophic and irreversible impacts are too high, said Dr Pritchard.

The University used state-of-the-art computer software developed by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to analyse the results of the mock negotiations.

Dr Pritchard said: “The software, which is based on current climate change science, is so good that it is used in many countries by decision makers and real official negotiators. It really brought home the dangers.

“The event was particularly special because of the rich mix of participants which meant we were able to harness a range of knowledge. We effectively had three generations represented with all the possibilities that creates to build understanding and support and to share experiences.”

Recent school leaver Sarah Kerr said: “This was the most I have ever had to think in my entire life.”

And student Joana Andrade said: “We all need to know about the reality of what is happening.”

Dr Pritchard added: “An integral part of developing education for sustainability, as we are doing at the University, is to find ways to promote understanding and skills about climate change.”

Following the event’s success, plans are underway to include it as part of undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Ideas for involving students from schools and colleges will be developed.

The event was picked up by local press 'Bedfordshire on Sunday'

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