- IMD Business School
News Stories · Sustainability

MBAs stage COP simulation to experience the challenges of climate leadership

MBA students simulated a COP climate summit over two days to experience system leadership and to see the importance and complexities of solving the world’s most pressing problems.
June 2022

What’s it like to take part in negotiations at the UN’s climate conference?

Over two intense days, the MBA class simulated a COP on IMD’s campus in Lausanne, assuming the roles of delegates, activists and journalists to understand the complexities and trade-offs involved in multilateral negotiations to prevent further global temperature rises.

The exercise aimed to help students explore the purpose of COP and the role of economic activity in climate change and nature loss.

“Business leaders of the future need to be aware of the competing interests, logistical challenges and emotions that drive negotiations at COP,” said Knut Haanaes, Professor of Strategy and the Lundin Sustainability Chair. “This is something that can’t be taught with 20 slides; you need to experience it.”

The simulation was designed to re-create the COP summits in the most realistic way possible. Students were divided into negotiation parties from three regions: Region A representing the United States, the EU, Australia, Japan and other developed countries; Region B consisting of China, India, South Africa, Brazil and large rapidly developing economies; and Region C made up of over 100 nations in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, South America, Africa, the small island states and the Middle East.

Negotiations took place simultaneously in three streams focused on cutting CO2 emissions, reducing deforestation and establishing a climate fund.

Activists disrupted the talks, turning off the air conditioning and plunging negotiations into darkness for several seconds to force delegates to confront the daily challenges faced by citizens in countries which do not have equal access to resources. Meanwhile, a team of journalists wrote articles on the status of the talks for a newspaper dubbed “Intense Media Daily” – a play on IMD’s initials.

External experts including Claire O’Neill, a former UK minister for energy and climate growth and Marco Lambertini, Director-General WWF International, shared their experience of attending real COP summits.

“The biggest driver of behavioral change, from an ant to a human, is a threat. That is what’s happening right now. People are feeling threatened,” said Lambertini. “Everyone in society, including corporations, heads of state, consumers, are really beginning to get it.”

Negotiations took place simultaneously in three streams focused on cutting CO2 emissions, reducing deforestation and establishing a climate fund. After two-days of intense wrangling delegates at the IMD COP agreed to:

-Limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius

-Reduce deforestation by 100% by 2030

-Submit $300 billion to a Global Climate Fund targeted at countries who will be most affected by climate change.

Among the accomplishments were agreeing to establish an independent climate audit board along with clear timelines and accountability for the funding. On the downside, negotiators failed to agree on a target to promote forestation by 50%.

Participants said the simulation had brought home the complexity of the talks and the challenge of finding common ground and building trust. Others spoke of the challenge of coordinating with teammates who were in parallel negotiations.

“Leading a lot of people with different interests is extremely difficult. The COP is doing this for two weeks. Right now, we have understood the difficulties they have – not only in finding solutions, but also in finding the energy and the way to lead,” said one participant.

Haanaes praised students for taking the simulation seriously. “I was worried you might get to a result too easily. But I was surprised by how hard it was for certain regions to concede things, which I really appreciated.”