Lessons from Development & Climate Days: Innovative Conference formats can have a positive impact on participants

On Saturday November 16th was the first day of Development and Climate Days (D&C) at COP19. D&C Days, an extremely participatory event, was hosted by the GEFJICARed Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre (RCCC), IIED and ICCCADI, along with my team partners at Yale, Verner Wilson and Rex Barrer,co-facilitated climate change games at D&C Days. We interned with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre as a component of the International Organizations and Conference Class that we are taking at at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. In this post I want to share my reflections on how D&C Days, with an innovative conference approach, positively inspired participants to take action on climate change.

At D&C Days the first session of talks was about a diverse range of climate change adaptation projects and programs. They covered topics from National Adaptation Planning to including climate considerations in project risk management. The presentation format was in the form of “lightning talks”. In lightning talks, twelve adaptation professionals facilitated discussions on a topic of their expertise with groups of approximately 8 participants. Discussions lasted 15 minutes and then participants switched tables to meet a new practitioner. On personal terms I found this presentation format very enriching. I was not only able to engage on a one-on-one conversation but I also learned from the other members at the table.

One of my lightning talk conversations was with Gernot Laganda, who is a Technical Advisor for Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction at IFAD. He presented an IFAD Project in Yemen. IFAD is mapping flash flooding risks, soil erosion and stone terraces to inform agriculture development stakeholders on risk hot-spots. The stakeholders have used this information to prioritize investment on Climate Smart projects in risk-prone locations.

At D&C Days, we also played serious games that aimed to promote dialogue amongst participants about how to prepare for climate change challenges in the future.  The CAULDRON game: Climate Attribution Under Loss & Damage: Risking, Observing, Negotiating was so much fun! Pablo Suarez, Associate Director for Research and Innovation, led a game session for approximately 90 participants. Verner, Rex and I co-facilitated the game for 8 people each.

This game is a simplified version of reality. It engages participants by putting them first in the role of a farmer, then the role of a scientist and in the end the role of a UNFCCC negotiator. In the first phase, farmers decide whether to plant for low or high yields; opting to plant for a high yielding harvest requires a higher upfront investment, however if drought strikes, farmers having planted high yield stand to lose more. Likewise, choosing to plant a low yield option requires a smaller up front payment but the farmer also loses less if drought strikes. To determine the rains, each farmer shakes a special ‘rainmaker’ (symbolized by one six-sided die locked in a special container). If the shake of the rainmakers reveals a six, this means drought. All other numbers (1-5) mean favorable rains.

After several rounds of planting, determining the rains by shaking the rainmaker, and either harvesting low or high yield varieties (or losing investment if drought strikes!), each farmer has a record of how often drought has affected their harvest. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, climate change is introduced. The rainmakers are replaced, and little do farmers know that some of the new rainmakers have loaded dice, which increase the likelihood of rolling a six. From this point onwards, many farmers discover they are experiencing more droughts than before.

Notably, resources are inequitably distributed from the start of the game: some farmers begin as developing country farmers with fewer resources to invest in planting than those farmers that begin the game as farmers living in developed countries. A few developing countries ‘graduate’ to developed status during the game. The latter are more resilient to climate change and tend to accumulate resources during the 20 rounds of the farming phase.

In the second phase, participants take on the role of scientists. They consider the data recorded during the farming phase but then must also each roll their ‘rainmakers’ twelve times to model climate change projections. A roll of a six continues to symbolize drought, the more times a six is rolled, the more scientists must consider whether increased occurrence of drought is a result of the changing climate. In the end, scientists must record their level of confidence about whether the likelihood that risk of drought has increased or decreased in their country. Some participants take their role very seriously. According to results in the game, some participants even decide not to believe in climate change.

In the last part of the game, farmers become Ministers of the Environment and scientists become Ministers of Finance and enter into the negotiations phase of the game. Players must each consider whether the losses incurred by the farmers are attributable to climate change (taking into account the scientists’ observations), and negotiate with one another to assign responsibility for this and address how to deal with loss and damage from a changing climate. In a matter of minutes, players have to come up with agreed upon text on how to proceed when a country within their region faces food shortages and other consequences related to drought.

Some text containing ratified rules by the ministers appeared as “On the face of climate developed countr will beans risk mitigation”.  This rule, intentionally a typo, is a simplified example of the outcomes of the real negotiation mechanism. In the real world, it is exceedingly difficult to have so many countries with diverse experiences and levels of information and resources agree on how to tackle climate change in such limited time.

I enjoyed facilitating the CAULDRON game because of three main reasons. 1) Participants probably had the most fun they’ve had in the last week; 2) People got emotional which opened them up to thinking of complex problems in innovative ways; 3) I understood the importance of games as an education tool to get to people’s hearts and minds. For RCCC, education is a priority. Article six of UNFCCC deals precisely with the importance of climate change education. If every country implemented Article six through games under their respective capacities, we would probably be at a different place in the climate change negotiations.

In the end, D&C days was effective at employing innovative approaches to discuss complex problems such as climate change vulnerabilities, education or negotiations. Thinking outside of the box can help us come up with effective solutions to long-standing problems. However, innovation is not the only factor needed to make a change. Youth is also key and; that is why I concur with Rawlston Moore (Sr. Climate Change Advisor at the GEF), on youth  at UNFCCC. “Youth involvement [and  innovation are] what we need in order to change the way we look at the global problem of Climate Change.”