Flags representing many of the United Nations’ 193 member states provided a colorful backdrop to the table around which more than 60 Niagara University undergraduate and graduate students were seated. The students were participating in a daylong international climate change simulation organized by the university’s newly launched Environmental Justice initiative and sponsored by the United Nations Joint SDG Fund and the NGO Delegation of the Congregation of the Mission to the United Nations. The simulation, which was held on Dec. 2, 2022, was modeled on the 27th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that was held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November.
Designed and led by Fulbright Scholar and Niagara University Environmental Justice fellow and scholar-in-residence Farida Razaqi, the simulation enabled students to step into the shoes of a diplomat or government official participating in a United Nations conference focusing on global climate change. To prepare, the students spent the fall semester doing intensive research in their political science, international studies, and law and jurisprudence courses. They investigated the conditions and policy decisions related to their assigned countries and how those decisions influence and are influenced by other states, domestic and international institutions, and citizens. They also learned more about climate change and related issues facing the US and the world, as well as the framework in which these issues are addressed and resolved.
After welcome remarks from NU’s executive vice president, Dr. Debra Colley; faculty co-directors of the Justice House program Dr. Chris Lee, associate professor of comparative politics and director of liberal arts; Dr. David Reilly, professor and chair of political science and director of international studies; and Kevin A. Hinkley, J.D., assistant professor of political science and director of the pre-law advisement program; and an introduction by Razaqi and senior international studies major Andrew Fleckenstein, who served as co-chair of the event, the students began the simulation with a roll call of countries.
As the country they represented was called, the students raised their country placards to acknowledge that they were present and if they were voting members of the UN. During the next several hours, the students discussed issues relating to climate change policy, specifically as it related to United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement. Through individual presentations, moderated and unmoderated caucuses, the participants shared what their countries have accomplished, as well as the opportunities and challenges they identified related to meeting the goals of attaining global net zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. As the day progressed, the conversation intensified and students engaged in separate discussions with their peers to develop proposals that they presented at the end of the conference. Two proposals were submitted, voted upon, and passed.
“Students’ direct, hands-on involvement in the process led to a deeper grasp of climate change and related issues facing the world, such as gender disparities in the context of climate change, the allocation of responsibilities and resources between developed and developing nations, loss and damage, adaptation, and net zero goal, as well as the framework in which these issues are addressed and resolved,” said Razaqi.
During the event, students also heard from NU alumna Lisa Kurbiel, Class of 1989, head of secretariat for the Joint SDG Fund at the United Nations; Jim Claffey, NGO representative of the Congregation of the Mission to the United Nations; Kim Diana Connolly, vice dean for advocacy and experiential education and director of the Environmental Advocacy Clinic of the University at Buffalo School of Law; and Simon Connolly, the US representative to the Youth Engaged in Wetlands.
“I’ve wondered myself about what St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of the Congregation of the Mission, and the Vincentian priests and brothers, would think of the modern world,” said Claffey. “I think he would have loved what happened here today, because the Vincentian question that’s always asked, comes from St. Vincent himself: ‘What must be done?’ And he always wanted a practical and creative solution. I think what we learned today is one of the things that must be done. We must educate ourselves and continue to educate ourselves, but education that challenges us to do something. I think it was eminently creative, and I think Vincent would be proud and would be very happy about this event.”
Fleckenstein, who serves as secretary-general of Niagara’s EUROSIM & Model UN Association, said that simulations like these are imperative for future leaders so that they learn the proper procedures and etiquette necessary to be part of these diplomatic conversations.
“I think it’s pivotal that we start sooner to understand these unknown rules on how organizations like this operate,” he said. “We’re going to have to be the ones to produce change. If we don’t know how the game is played, I don’t know if we’re ever going to get anything truly done.”
“As we designed this year's simulation, our focus was on providing a unique experiential learning opportunity to NU students,” said Razaqi. “Seeing the tremendous excitement and interest in our first annual simulation, we plan to develop opportunities for students from other colleges and local high schools to participate in future years.”