Spilling the beans on climate change

Geography students studying ‘Resilience for Sustainable Development’ had a change from their normal lecture format recently and instead played a game. This wasn’t just for fun though, as ‘serious gaming’ is becoming a popular way of sharing complex information with a range of potential users and giving them opportunity to discuss its use. The students played CAULDRON, a game developed by members of the ACE-Africa project (University of Reading (Parker, Cornforth and Boyd) and Oxford University) together with the Red Cross/ Red Crescent Climate Centre, who have lots of experience designing games to communicate climate information. This game was developed to present the science of extreme weather event attribution in an accessible way, and provide space for discussion about whether it could be used in climate policy.

CAULDRON stands for Climate Attribution Under Loss and Damage: Risking, Observing, Negotiating. This reflects the fact that loss and damage due to extreme weather events is occurring all over the world and people are taking an interest in whether this is due to climate change. Negotiations are also currently taking place to work out how to address this loss and damage under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The game gives players the chance to experience having to make decisions under uncertain climate risk, something many people have to do in reality every day. They also have to analyse changes in risk with only limited data and deal with the difficulties of negotiating with other players with different interests.


The game began with players given the role of farmers who had to plant crops each season. They were each given beans to symbolise their crops and a ‘rainmaker’, which was a small pot containing a dice, to shake to determine their rainfall each season. Players who had good rains gained more beans, while those with drought years lost beans. Some players ended up in crisis with too few beans to be able to plant, so had to try and strike up deals with fellow players to be lent beans so they could keep playing!

Climate change can affect the probabilities of extreme weather events occurring, so for the next part of the game players were given new rainmakers. Some of these contained dice with increased probability of drought which would ruin crops, but players didn’t know which! Suddenly, there seemed to be more droughts happening and more players getting into crisis.

Players try to figure out their best farming strategy

Players try to figure out their best farming strategy

For the next part of the game, players became scientists. Using new rainmakers as ‘climate models’, they produced more statistics to help them work out whether their risk of drought had been altered by climate change. How trustworthy were the results provided by their models though?

Players became negotiators at the UN climate negotiations for the final part of the game. They had to work out how they were going to deal with the fact that some players had collected more beans than others. Some players had been acting as developed countries and so, along with fewer losses, they had greater historical emissions. Were they to blame for losses in the developing countries? After much debate, each group managed to come up with an agreement that all players were happy to sign. However, some players did say they felt they had been bullied into making agreements and noted that the develop countries were denying that climate change had happened at all! Solutions presented to address the loss and damage at the end of the game included clearance of debts that had accumulated between players, rules on farming strategies that would be used in the future, and agreements on transfer of beans for when players got into crisis. With such a range of ideas diplomatically expressed, maybe we have uncovered some of the negotiators of the future!

A spokesperson reads out his region's signed agreement to address loss and damage

A spokesperson reads out his region’s signed agreement to address loss and damage


By the end of the game, all the players said their knowledge of extreme event attribution had been improved. One player said their understanding had been improved ‘by creating a situation where extreme events had ‘real’ consequences and a political ‘reality’’. This is the key feature of participatory gaming, that players can experience the emotions involved and have to act under uncertainty rather than just learning about it theoretically. Furthermore, it provides insights into the challenges of climate negotiations and the inequality between developing and developed countries, along with the difficulties in separating the impacts of climate change from other factors.

This has been just one of the many times the CAULDRON game has been played, which have included players from sectors ranging from climate science to civil society. Each time the game has prompted lively discussion about event attribution science and dealing with the impacts of climate change and demonstrated that ‘serious gaming’ can be an effective, but also fun, way of sharing climate research.

Emily Boyd & Chuks Okereke contribute chapters to award-winning book

Professor Emily Boyd and Dr Chuks Okereke have contributed chapters to a new book, ‘Successful Adaption to Climate Change – Linking Science and Policy in a Rapidly Changing World’ which has been awarded ‘Outstanding Academic Title of 2014’ by Choice Review.
The Award
Choice Review: Outstanding Academic Title of 2014 Successful Adaptation to Climate Change Linking Science and Policy in a Rapidly Changing World, Routledge edited by Susanne C. Moser and Maxwell T Boykoff.  The Choice Review identifies the best scholarly titles and abstracts, in 2014 featuring 690 titles in 54 disciplines and subsections. Emily Boyd is lead author on Chapter 12 ‘Building Climate Resilience: Lessons of Early Warning in Africa’. Chuks Okereke is co-author on Chapter 5 ‘REDD+ and Social Justice: Adaptation by Way of Mitigation?’
The Book
The book Successful Adaptation is described as follows: “This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking volume, with surprising insights. Of the many books on climate change, this one really hits on the essentials of “What are we going to do about it?” and “Why haven’t we done anything yet?” It focuses primarily on issues in the social science arena, addressing adaption to climate change and how societies and policy makers are wrestling with what to do about ecological issues, but also the societal hurdles and reasons why, for the foreseeable future, not much is probably going to happen. The compendium of articles covers such topics as social justice and adaption, trade-offs in maintaining (or not maintaining) biodiversity, media representations of climate adaptation, risk reduction, baseline assessment, and what some societies and countries are already doing to adapt to a changing climate. This work will make readers think and realize that although addressing climate change is complicated, achieving workable solutions is even more complicated. Well-written and engaging reading for both social and physical scientists working on or interested in climate change or associated issues. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals/practitioners; general audiences. –B. Ransom, formerly, University of California, San Diego

Professor Emily Boyd attends meeting on Forests, Climate Change & Development

Emily-BOYD_1608_wProfessor Emily Boyd is attending a high level meeting on Forests, Climate Change and Development in the presence of HRH The Prince of Wales and The UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, The Rt. Hon Edward Davey MP at the British Academy, London today.

The deforestation and degradation of the world’s forests accounts for as much as 20% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions: indeed, recent science shows that if tropical forests were a country, its emissions would be ahead of the European Union and not far behind China. Deforestation and degradation also cause significant biodiversity loss and damage to the livelihoods and wellbeing of forest-dependent peoples, as well as reducing regional water availability by disrupting climatic patterns. More encouragingly, and as the New Climate Economy report demonstrates, the policies needed to address deforestation, degradation and land use change are increasingly well defined, cost effective and make strong political, development and economic sense. And forest landscape restoration – in addition to reducing deforestation and degradation – represents a major opportunity to make further and much-needed global greenhouse mitigation gains in addition to creating a new source of sustainable rural livelihood opportunities.
The UN Secretary General’s Climate Leaders Summit in New York in September 2014 catalysed bold and increased commitments from Governments, NGOs and the private sector to protecting and restoring the world’s forests, building on the leadership of Brazil and other forest nations over recent years. 2015 represents a critical year for forests, both in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and in terms of the UNFCCC negotiations for COP21 in Paris. The London meeting – set to take place three days after a Forests Session at the World Economic Forum in Davos – will provide a high level opportunity to take stock of progress made since New York and further to advance the partnerships underway between donors, forest countries, civil society and the private sector intended to fulfil the commitments made at the Summit and in other contexts. It will also see the publication of The Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit’s new synthesis report entitled: ‘Protecting and Nurturing Tropical Forests in the 21st Century: a holistic perspective’.

Cough up: Rich nations can’t dodge bill for historic pollution

“If equity is in, we are out”. Those were the words of Todd Stern, the Chief climate negotiator of the United States on the eve of the last day of the UN Climate conference in Durban, South Africa in 2011.

In a room filled with high level officials from different countries desperately trying to agree the final text of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) – the document that was going to form the basis for the negotiation of a new long- term agreement that will replace the Kyoto Protocol – Mr Stern declared that the United States will not be party to any global climate negotiation process which attempts to make equity and justice central pillars of an envisaged agreement. He was reacting to the clamour from developing countries that the decision text establishing  the ADP, should prominently recognise the equity principle of common but differentiated responsibility and capability (CBDR) which basically implies that  developed countries, in keeping with their historical responsibility for climate change and their enhanced technological capabilities, should take the lead in making emission cuts. Developing countries further tend to rely on CBDR to ask to financial and technology transfer from the developed countries.

In Mr Stern’s view, however, developing countries insistence on climate justice was a clog in the wheel of the UN climate talks.  He went to say that as far as he (and presumably the US) was concerned, the global climate agreement was not about morality but about numbers and maths – whatever that means.

While some observers were alarmed by Mr Stern’s position, his words were in fact a fair, if vulgar, rendition of the mind-set that is quite pervasive among developed countries. Rich nations tend to prefer to wave aside or at least make light their moral responsibility in tackling climate change, while appealing for concerted action by ‘all parties’. “Pragmatism”, “realism’, and “we are in this together” are some of the other phrases used by developed countries as they try to duck their responsibility and cajole developing countries to instead step up their own climate actions. It was to this effect that many Western countries lined up behind the US in Durban.  Eventually all references to equity, justice and common but differentiated responsibility were expunged from the text.


The United Nations opens the UN Climate Summit 2014 September 23, 2014 at the United Nations in New York.

It has been a short-lived victory.  Events in the UN climate talks in Lima over the last two weeks have overwhelming demonstrated the utter futility of developed countries’ schemes to diminish issues of equity and justice, let alone sidestep them altogether.  In virtually all the key issues and categories under discussion – countries’ mitigation contributions, states’ adaptation commitments, the remit of the loss and damage, and climate finance, among others – equity and differentiation have stood out as sticking points.

Attempts, led to Russia, to amend the original UNFCCC Convention which groups states into developed and developing countries, with the latter largely exempted from quantified legally binding emission reduction obligations, were sternly rebuffed by China.  The G77 group of developing nations took a principled stance in all their submissions that the principle of equity must guide all negotiations and long-term actions. Showing their heightened distrust in the progress, developing countries even requested that texts should be displayed on the big screen in real time while negotiating to enhance transparency.

The harshest word for developed countries, however, came from the President of Bolivia, who referred to industrialized nations that have appropriated more than their own fair share of global atmospheric space as ‘thieves’ that must be made to pay back what they have stolen.

All of this is neither to suggest that developing countries should be given an easy ride in negotiating the 2015 climate agreement, nor that there are easy approaches to a finding a ‘just’ climate agreement.  Climate change is indeed an urgent problem which requires the most extensive and ambitious co-operation from states to bring it under control and justice is a deeply contested concept open to multiple interpretations recommending diverse, sometimes conflicting, policy.  However, what is beyond doubt is that international politics is not beyond the pale of morality as the likes of Todd Stern would like to claim.

Climate change has thrown up very complex and unprecedented moral questions for the international community. Only a concerted and mutually respectful approach to bargaining by states can offer the best prospect for finding an equitable and effective agreement.

If Lima has taught us anything, it is that humanity badly needs a dose of respect between nations if we are to avoid climate chaos. The brazen scheme to expunge equity from previous climate agreements by the US and her backers has only served to further erode the mutual trust sorely needed to make compromises.

Morality might be a dirty word in some states’ foreign policy handbooks. But call it what you like. The world needs to find its guiding principles quickly, and developing countries want rich nations to pay for what they’ve broken.

About today’s blogger:

ChukwumerijeOkereke_1601_wDr Chukwumerije Okereke is a global climate policy specialist and jointly leads the new Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships Programme on Climate Justice: Ethics, Politics, Law at the University of Reading.