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Thursday, 26 November 2015

Being the bad guy: My experience as a Shell delegate at a mock climate change negotiation

On the 12th November, the delegates gathered for UNFCCC COP 15 "Climate Change Negotiations: What would you do?" An event that formed part of the Thinking Futures Festival this year. 

Royal Dutch Shell took their seats in the centre of the room. As a global powerhouse for the private energy sector not afraid to wield their lobbying muscle, many eyes were trained on them below eyebrows of cynicism that made clear how the company’s position at the high table of one equal vote was seen.
Players in the Climate Change Negotiations event
As the facilitator of this group, it was my job to guide a group of A-Level students from across Bristol through a set of mock negotiations on a range of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. To make matters even worse, we had to do this as a multinational oil company that specialises in attracting suspicion and doubt. This blog is a reflection on my day – I cannot comment on the other groups and their negotiations. I do know that Greenpeace stormed out of negotiations after 10 minutes (to later return – when told to) and Brazil, Sweden and Russia all seized the microphone from the chairs of the session. Under other group’s distrustful gaze, preparations began tentatively as the three Shell negotiators brought in from Nailsea School Sixth Form began to set out their positions on the five resolutions and plan their strategies for the three rounds of bilateral negotiations, thinking carefully about the other parties’ positions and how they could be pulled away from them.
Groups set out their position on the five resolutions 
Our first negotiation was with the International Work Group of Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) representing indigenous peoples across the world. Perhaps needless to say, there was not a great deal of common ground. The IWGIA have little control of land or resources and therefore not a lot to bargain with. With negotiation being at first hesitant as everyone settled into their roles, and also relying on appeals to morality or promises with no way of holding anyone to account, neither side was prepared to firmly shake hands on a deal. There were other negotiating partners to come, and ones that would prove more tractable, particularly as the Shell delegates polished their negotiation skills.

Next up was Ethiopia, and Shell’s toughest negotiating partner of the afternoon, with both sides reluctant to give too much away too soon. Propositions went back and forth with constant consultations between the two negotiation teams. Eventually, as the time of the session came near to an end, a voting deal was done with a handshake. Shell had done well; a trade on keeping the Arctic open for what was a compromising, but not disagreeable, vote from Shell on the protection of climate refugees.
Ethiopia: Shell's toughest negotiator!
The final round of formal negotiations saw Shell talking to Brazil, which had promised to be the most fruitful meeting of the day – depending on how much they had already been tied into. With Shell’s negotiating team now in full flow and putting on a tactical masterclass, a deal was quickly formalised with no real concession on their part. As negotiations began to come to a close they fought hard for a further deal, which would have seen Brazil renege on an earlier deal they had made with Greenpeace. Shell’s argument that Greenpeace’s more militant-activist tactics had invalidated the formal agreement fell on receptive ears, but the integrity of the agreement process was upheld when they finally held firm to their previous pledge, even with the threat of pulling all business out of the country.

And the final three minutes meant free-roaming negotiations and last-minute deals. The room was buzzing as now was the time to shore up some multilateral bloc voting agreements in a final attempt to get favourable resolutions passed in the final vote. Shell, the corporate power house, reached quick backroom agreements with political and economic powers the USA, Russia and China, in a final attempt to ensure that the logic of the market and the multiplier effect would prevail for the benefit of all, even if they wouldn’t see it.

Following a break for lunch it was time for to vote; five resolutions to determine a global strategy for how the world’s resources, environment and the people affected by it, would be managed for years to come. The negotiating teams waited and voted patiently, assessing the room with each show of hands to see how the vote was going whilst justifying their various positions.
Voting on the five resolutions
Whatever it may auger for COP21 in Paris starting at the end of the month, on all five resolutions the one which promises the most for addressing environmental degradation was passed. Even Shell, with a fairly free vote on one resolution, voted in a way which raised eyebrows in the room again, although this time out of pleasant surprise rather than suspicion.

The resolutions passed by this group of students have resulted in a climate change agreement that sees: all countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050; a global fund of $100 billion for at risk countries by 2025; the protection of all climate refugees; the protection of the forests under a REDD-style scheme; and the end of exploration of the Arctic for fossil fuel supplies. On final reflection it was a great day; an exercise in critical, lateral and creative thinking, in empathy, in dirty dealing, strategising to maximise interests, in bargaining and compromise. Shell had not seen a single one of their preferred positions on the resolutions passed; the best they took away was a second preference on one resolution.

That wasn’t evidence of a lack of skill on the part of Shell’s negotiators but, above all, about bringing some hope and solidarity to the table. This hope was secretly shared by the Shell delegates as they thought about the future of the environment and their role as part of the global powers responsible.
Backwell School students pose with Sir Winston Churchill, former Chancellor of the University of Bristol
This blog was written by Thomas Sealy, first year PhD Sociology student and one of the facilitators at the Climate Change Negotiations event.

If you're interested in running a schools event like this, the Public Engagement team can help advise and support.

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