As representatives from 195 UN member countries gathered for the 27th UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Francophone MBA students from the Telfer School of Management were shadowing their deliberations as part of an MBA course on values-based leadership (MBA 5636).
“I am impressed by the way in which the students truly embraced their roles,” said lawyer Pierre Renaud, who was a guest of honour for this activity and a delegate to the first UN Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. “Not only was I intrigued by the negotiations and the arguments put forward by the different teams, I was especially impressed by how well the ethnic diversity of the students represented the various countries. It really felt like we were attending a genuine assembly of nations,” he added.
A daunting challenge: finding common ground among member states
At both Telfer and COP27, the challenge was major: building consensus on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from now until 2100 and how to adapt funding to ensure a fair and equitable transition to a green economy. And here at the Desmarais Building, our students brilliantly took on the roles of various world leaders, each in turn revealing their commitment to reducing the impacts of climate change. “I found it to be an incredible experience to participate in this simulation as part of this course. It allowed me to become aware of issues related to GHG emissions and the decisions taken by representatives from the various countries participating in the COP,” said Déborah E., an MBA student at the Telfer School of Management.
Two weeks before the simulation, the students were divided into six teams and informed of the economic, social, and environmental challenges faced by the various UN member nations. Each team was tasked with preparing a scenario to present and defend its commitments to reduce greenhouse gases and thus ensure that global warming not exceed two degrees Celsius between now and 2100. The teams from China, India, developing countries, the US, other developed countries, and the European Union then met in a plenary assembly. “This climate change simulation was enriching and demonstrated the importance of global summits, as well as the urgency of taking action and of having responsible leaders who understand that the environment must be a priority,” said Benoit Chartrand, another Telfer School of Management MBA student.
Economic navel gazing leads to defending the indefensible
Following a presentation on the alarming consequences of climate change, including devastating droughts, sea level rise that would wipe certain countries off the map altogether, and major food shortages, the teams began their discussions. China defended its own interests and tried to negotiate for its own emissions reduction rate, while developing countries demanded compensation for all the irreversible damages and losses caused by the industrialization of developed countries by appealing to their moral obligations, which the latter tried to deny in defence of their own industrial sectors. In short, the teams began by defending the indefensible, as did the countries at the COP summit.
Experiential learning as a way of simplifying complex systems
Global warming is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to climate change, whose multiple and interdependent factors combine to form too complex a system to be taught in a linear way. Simulations, notably those that incorporate roleplaying, simplify this complexity while making learning both enjoyable and efficient. The simulation tool used in this course, called the C-ROADS Climate Change Policy Simulator and designed by Climate Interactive and MIT Sloan, clearly demonstrated these benefits. This iterative teaching method encourages students to learn by simplifying the complexity of systems such as climate. “I would like to thank Professor Dorra Jlouli, as well as all those who made this simulation possible. My participation in this experience allowed me to understand how an event as important as the COP operates, but especially helped me understand the complexity of the decision process when all stakeholders are taken into account,” said Bogdane T., a Telfer School of Management MBA student.
By focusing on their role as leaders who were trying to take responsible decisions, and who see the immediate effect of each decision on the climate system, the students were able to realize that only mindful, ethical commitment from everyone can save our planet. “This was a very lively roleplaying exercise through which we felt the dilemma that a responsible leader might face when deciding on a topic as complex as climate change,” said Houda Zidane, another MBA student at the Telfer School of Management. “C-ROADS was a very valuable learning experience that gave us an opportunity to apply the responsible leadership concepts that we learned in class,” said Telfer MBA student Anne-Sophie H.-Bienvenue. “In my opinion, learning by doing effectively helps us better absorb complex ideas, such as systemic thinking.” “Global warming is everyone’s business, and it’s an issue that should be top of mind for all our leaders,” added Déborah E.
Above all, is the climate crisis not a moral issue?
As a tragedy of the commons, is the current crisis not a moral issue, above all? Is there not a need to demand mindful, responsible leadership from those nations whose industrial development has occurred at the expense of countries that are experiencing the irreversible upheavals of climate change? It is by strengthening the sense of moral obligation within current and future leaders that we can hope to better shoulder our responsibilities toward the planet and thus contribute to achieving our sustainable development goals. At Telfer, we are proud to already be moving in this direction.