On the Role of Role-playing in Climate Change Negotiations

Image iconIMG_8264_2.jpgZoe Laventhol is an undergraduate student at Boston University, and is currently pursuing a degree in International Relations and a minor in Arabic. Zoe is the writer of this blog post.


“Good morning,” lecturer Elizabeth Lopez announced as she strode into the crowded hall, “and welcome to the annual meeting between the U.S. government and multilateral organizations.”

Earlier that morning, the Beahrs ELP participants had listened to a presentation on climate policy from Ming Yang of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and a presentation on climate change and clean energy in Latin America and the Caribbean from Elizabeth Lopez of Climate Change Partners of the Americas. Participants learned more about funding sources for international environmental development, the role of national policy in funding implementation, and the influence of multilateral organizations and local communities on how funds are used.

After that, Ms. Lopez organized a role-playing exercise in which she broke the participants up into several groups, staging a mock climate debate to demonstrate what they had learned. The scenario was a climate conference in Nairobi, in which the local government was requesting funds for an environmental development project. There were four major groups that took part in the meeting: one represented the U.S. government, another represented multilateral implementation organizations (namely the World Bank), another represented the local government of the country requesting environmental development funds (in this case, Kenya), and the last represented the local community in the area where development was being proposed.

The ELP participants quickly got into the spirit of the mock conference as the U.S. government representative President Barack Obama (a.k.a. Christopher Achuenu) opened negotiations by going through U.S. conditions for giving funding to multilateral institutions. He declared that the U.S. was happy to provide assistance, as long as there was good organization, clear planning and transparent allocation of aid. He added that the multilateral organizations must be “S.M.A.R.T.” (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timetable) in their usage of funds, and ended his speech with a strong “Yes We Can!”

Next, World Bank representatives Lily Hale, Ming Yang, and Abou Guindo assured members of the conference that they were very well organized. They maintained that they only gave grants and loans to governments who had well-thought-out and practical proposals. They also urged the U.S. government not to delay in delivering resources once a funding decision had been made, as this could cause major problems with implementation. Mr. Guindo then invited local governments to submit their development proposals by calling out: “Move in, governments. We have money!”

The Kenyan government was cheered enthusiastically as it took the microphone to pitch its project proposal to the World Bank. Representative Claudia Assmann described their plan to tackle power cuts and fossil fuel dependence by increasing the national share of renewable energy to 20% by 2020. Their outline included incorporating green energy sources such as solar energy, “greening” buildings by having higher efficiency standards, and working with regional governments to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.

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Demonstrators from the local community were picketing the conference from the back of the room with signs reading “We Want Clean Water” and emblazoned with skulls and crossbones. Debates escalated quickly as the community forcefully demanded that the proposed development plan deliver more jobs, bett

er schools, roads, and houses, more food, and clean water. Assurances from the Kenyan government and pleas for more time to secure funding were quickly shouted down. As representatives from every delegation clamoured to have their opinions heard, U.S. government representative Rida Sherif shouted at the demonstrators above the commotion: “If you don’t have water, drink Cola!” The demonstrators, World Bank representative, and Kenyan officials seemed unfazed and continued to yell their demands at each other until moderator Elizabeth Lopez called the room back to order.

While this exercise was probably more exciting than the average international climate conference, participants were using critical and creative thinking to expand their problem-solving skills and explore several layers of the funding implementation and policy development process. They also reinforced and expanded the knowledge that many of them already experience in their work every day: that effective negotiation can often be the key to transforming environmental ideals into a reality.