Representing Iran at “Make It Work” – A COP21 Simulation

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Eden Caceda describes what it’s like to represent Iran in a mock COP21 conference. 

For a few days at the end of May 2015 in Paris, around 200 students across the globe took part in a public simulation of the UNFCCC international climate negotiations, COP21, which will take place in Paris in December. Among the group were three students from the University of Sydney who have reflected on the event, its effectiveness and how climate change action can be brought about.

In this blog, Eden Caceda, an Arts and Social Sciences study with majors in Film and English, describes what it was like to represent Iran during talks.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in December is said to be one of the most important international climate conferences of all time – after 20 years of United Nations negotiations, countries will make the main objective of the conference be to achieve a binding and universal agreement on climate. Notable figures from the current Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon to Pope Francis are among millions across the world calling for action on climate change.

In Sciences Po’s simulation of COP21, I decided to represent the delegation of Iran in the talks. I was really excited to represent Iran because of the interesting aspects at play, particularly when standing for a nation who’s economy significantly relies on oil, yet is considered a developing nation with growing domestic infrastructure. It’s particularly interesting because there are a number of environmental issues in Iran that contribute to poor air quality, with Tehran rated as one of the most polluted cities in the world.

In the talks I was involved in the diplomacy and negotiations of the “Energy” section of the binding and universal agreement we were deliberating on. In this, I represented the interests of Iran in ensuring that all negotiations relating to greenhouse gases, fossil fuel emissions, energy consumption and production. We split this section into two: visions of the future and pathways to achieving these visions.

As a vision of the future, it was vital to come to an agreement on the percentage of fossil fuels that could account for the global energy mix. Similarly deciding whether a common carbon budget was a viable option was important in this section. After hours of consideration, we agreed that fossil fuels should not account for more than 40% of the global energy mix by 2050 (half of what it currently is) and we agreed that a carbon budget was necessary for both developing and developed nations.

In the section on pathways, we had over twelve agreed methods on achieving the visions in the former section. Some of them included methods of designing national carbon markets or carbon taxes, advice for collection of emission reports of signatory parties, ensuring renewable energy represents 30% of the global energy mix in the future, pledging that $100 billion dollars will be made available to the Green Climate Fund each year – compulsory for developed nations, voluntary for developing nations –, devoting funds to finance technological improvements limiting environmental impacts and ensuring transparency by nations in reporting emission rates.

Having never been involved in international diplomacy and governance simulations like Model United Nations before, I went into the simulation without any expectations of the experience I was to have. Over the days of the simulation, what I experienced is what I assume international diplomats and politicians do at these conferences: a struggle to find a common language to negotiate and have a thorough understanding of the variables and definitions involved in aspects relating to climate change. Required to negotiate with such different parties and delegations was painfully tedious and, at many times, felt completely pointless. But what I learnt from endless nights of negotiations and flip-flopping on decisions made was that diplomacy of such magnitude is difficult. When trying to balance a nation’s allies, economy, industries and personal environmental conditions, it is honestly surprising that delegations can come to an agreement on anything!

I feel like I personally achieved because I was able to balance the authenticity of being part of the delegation of Iran and my own personal wants from the conference. Having pushed incredibly hard to negotiate down the percentage that fossil fuels should account for in the global energy mix, I am pleased that we agreed on 40%. Many of my experiences from this simulation have impacted my decision making process and changed the way I approach negotiations and coming to agreements with other parties.

Hearing the pressing nature of climate change for many nations and understanding how other delegations deal with the issue meant that I learnt lots about how Australia can contribute towards ending climate change, both domestically and internationally. Reviewing Australia’s current fossil fuel emissions, energy consumption and production is the first step to identifying the necessary actions to halt climate change from continuing. Moving forward with a carbon budget and listening to suggestions from non-government organizations and other groups ensure that the Australian government and diplomats are accurately representing the public.

Overall the conference was a whirlwind of emotions: entertaining, irritating, stressful, hope-inspiring and fun. It brought to our attention how the semantics of words and phrasing were a main hindrance to bold action by the United Nations as a whole. What it really did was allowed me to understand the significance of the real life conference in December and appreciate the difficulty for the negotiators and diplomats in coming to an agreement. In the end, the future of the planet is reliant on the decisions made in 6 months time, and all we can do until then is remind the government and diplomats that they must do whatever is necessary to make it work.

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