COP 21: just a big game?

COP 21: just a big game?
17 December 2015

(This story appeared first last month on the website of the Institute of Development Studies; it has been edited slightly here for length .)

Climate change and game-playing may seem to have little in common. After all, what does the rolling of dice have to do with resilience or disasters? Quite a lot actually, as more than 50 climate change practitioners recently learned. 

As global leaders came together in Paris for climate negotiations at COP 21, they had to make commitments to tackle climate change. But how can they make the big decisions that are so urgently needed to meet the big challenges of our time?

For those shaping and delivering climate services, games can replicate the erratic nature of climate change, and the tough choices they have to make.

The games enable participants to experience what works well, what risks are worth taking, and what ones are not. 

The Climate Centre has been using games to more effectively help people understand climate change for a number of years now.

Thousands of people in over 40 countries – ranging from subsistence farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa to White House staff in Washington, DC – have taken part in serious game-playing.

Lives and livelihoods

Participants from the Climate Investment Funds’ (CIF) US$ 1.2 billion Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR) gathered to experience this for themselves as part of their recent pilot country meeting.

Climate services, including critical resilience measures such as disaster relief management, early warning systems, and agricultural extension, are a key feature of the PPCR because getting the right information to the right people at the right time can save lives and livelihoods.

All countries of the PPCR have set out to enhance their national systems in this area. Because if knowledge is power, few tools are as powerful as climate services.  

For example, in Zambia, increased floods and droughts make life difficult along the Kafue and Barotse sub-basins of the Zambezi River, particularly for communities depending on agriculture.

So the PPCR works to provide reliable and timely weather and climate information to farming communities in local languages which includes free text messaging so updates on weather conditions can be sent and received quickly.

The CIF commissioned the Climate Centre to design a game to highlight the uncertainties, complexities, and behavioural economics inherent in the delivery of climate services.

Participants from over 20 countries took part to deepen their understanding and broaden their perspectives. They included a diverse group of people from civil servants to technical experts to academics to communicators and scientists. 

The purpose of the Climate Investment Game was to use a different tool to increase participants’ knowledge in this area. The model for the session was ‘serious fun’ – quite different to the usual slides and flipcharts!

Extreme event

Participants were allocated into teams playing the role of a government. The facilitator played the part of a donor with plastic beans representing money.

Teams could invest in production or protection. Similarly to our real-life climate, it is much like the roll of a dice.

If teams rolled their dice and it landed between 1 and 5, benign climate conditions would maintain and this is where the investments in production reaped rewards.

However, if the number 6 was rolled, this meant an extreme event had hit, where investments in protection paid off.

What lessons did we learn?

*Games are a wonderful educational tool. They engage, entertain, and energise. ‘Learning by doing’ is a core part of the CIF’s mandate and games embody this philosophy.

*Games are a wonderful communications tool.  Interacting beats informing. The core conundrum of climate communications is how to convey complexity or scale in ways that don’t feel overwhelming or disempowering.

*We learned that you definitely need diversity for delivery. Participants came from all over the world and brought all sorts of skills to the table. Everybody brought their own perspective to the decision-making process. And the decisions made were better for that.

Although changes in climate and weather affect us all, they are hitting developing countries first and worst, and in many different ways.  

Droughts can destroy a harvest, floods can wreck homes and schools, and extreme weather can have a devastating impact on countries’ economies.

Climate services aim to protect those most vulnerable to these events and help them not only survive but thrive. 

Participants at a games workshop at the Development and Climate Days side-event at COP 21 in Paris play Answer with your feet, a quick energizer that allows players in a room to self-organize according to called questions(Photo: Climate Centre)