The Copenhagen Climate Exercise

Most people get lost when they just see the results of models. But people really understand when, as I saw in this Copenhagen Climate Exercise, they experience the results.

— Dr. Bob Corell, Global Change Program of the Heinz Center, USA, former chair of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment

“The Copenhagen Climate Exercise” (now World Climate) is a half day simulation-based role-playing climate game designed by SI’s Drew Jones and MIT’s John Sterman that gives groups from 10-50 an experience of reaching a global agreement to mitigate climate change. Set up as a highly simplified “Copenhagen-2009-like” U.N. negotiation, participants play the role of delegates from three regions of the world and work together to reach a global accord that meets the group’s goal for CO2 levels. The UN Secretary General receives pledges from three different “blocs”, asks his technical staff to simulate them in C-ROADS (formerly called Pangaea), and informs delegates of results, often sending them back for another round of debate, strategizing, and collaboration.

Jones has led it most recently for a group of European and South African business leaders gathered in Greenland. And Sterman led it for MIT students — MIT’s Technology Review covered the event. More information is here.

Players have tended to identify strongly with their roles — we’ve seen politically conservative Americans arguing vigorously for the rights to economic development for the south, Chinese nationals defending the US position, and “climate refugees” from Bangladesh climbing on the desks of the Indian delegates to escape sea level rise.

The photo below, taken in the Greenland event, shows the three groups, set up to experience the (exaggerated) relative economic conditions of the three blocs.  On the floor are the delegates from most of Africa, South America, island nations, and others. To the left, with chairs but no table, are China, India, South Africa, Indonesia and others.  To the right, with the table, tablecloth, candles, paper, and pens, are the US, EU, Canada, Australia, Japan et al.

The game debrief tends to go in several of many directions: international geo-political dynamics, the biogeochemistry of climate (oceans, plants, the carbon cycle, tipping points), cultural barriers to global agreements, managing hope and fear amidst an uncertain future, a “systems” perspective on complex issues, and the technological, legal, and behavioral changes that will help stabilize the climate.

Overall, we’ve seen the Copenhagen Climate Game help people quickly learn the policy-relevant science of climate change, viscerally experience the international dynamics, and succeed at crafting a solution to the challenges, while taking a realistic look at the scale of changes ahead as we shift to a low-carbon global economy.

Here’s what the participants said:

I realized that we needed to communicate internationally if we are to succeed in addressing climate change. Also, I found I need the physical experience of representing Africa and other nations in the negotiation to really get the key insights that will lead to success.

Participant, Germany

I learned that once I participated “inside” the model I could visualize the results of different emissions reductions targets. I think that if you use the simulator, you will become much more effective in strategy creation – you will understand the effects of different approaches when they become visual.

Participant, Sweden

The simulation and exercise allow you to understand how difficult and important it is to achieve a reduction in atmospheric CO2 levels over the coming decades. It showed me, from a global decision-making point of view, unless we change our language and decisions in the international agreements, it will be impossible to reach consensus.

Participant, South Africa

I saw the value of actually living the UN framework process and content.  You get a real feel for the numbers and the impact of decisions globally.

Participant, Germany

This tool could be very important in education. It is useful because the numbers are objective. People can be optimistic or pessimistic, but here the numbers just report what is happening in the climate system.

Participant, Italy


  1. Rob says

    This is about plans. Lets research who actually has one. It had to be google of course. As Eric Schmidt said. Quit grousing and come up with a plan if you don’t like mine. After all whats the alternative? Death? So here is his plan

    In short: A crisis is an opportunity(financial crisis).

    Q: Why are we spending so much money on military security? A: Oil security

    Premise: Total fundamental failure of political leadership based on:
    1. Vested interests 2. Lack of understanding of value of; global alliances, best available technology and the great opportunity we are being presented with to restructure inefficiency.

    A – Efficiency first: This is the cheapest and easiest with the fastest payback e.g. Google investing $5 million for a two year return!
    B – Investment in Solar thermal, wind and geothermal mainly with incentives(as there are so many subtle subsidies for fossil fuels)
    C – Restructure the old decaying grid: Old grid has 9% efficiency loss. Mathematical modelling using renewables mix across US show a smart grid to be very stable, in fact more stable than current one. Investigate V2G(vehicle to grid) with plug in hybrids i.e. charge in off peak, download in peak as most cost is at peak power(and taxpayer makes money not driving).
    D – Regulation: Price on carbon, new building efficiency standards, plug in hybrids(electric/ethanol)

    Cost: 2.7 trillion Savings: 2.1 trillion (in efficiencies) 8% discount rate = $200 million in net present value

    1 Security
    2 Price of energy
    3 Jobs and investment(yes millions of home based jobs)
    4 And by the way, CLIMATE CHANGE

  2. says

    I saw a Simpsons episode that was similar to this. The closest we came to anything like this in school was fake-court trials, and even that was a stretch. Good to know!

  3. jogging stroller reviews says

    This is great thanks for taking a stand, something definitely needs to be done to control the climate.