While climate change remains a pressing issue across countries and generations, research shows the topic is of particular concern to millennials and Gen Z, according to Pew.
That is part of the reason why the Student Global Climate Change Simulation has drawn such immense interest from the USC student body. It’s also a challenging, thought-provoking way to learn more about the worldwide effects of climate change.
The event, hosted in partnership with the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU), saw almost 200 students from 22 universities around the globe participating in an online mock United Nations climate change conference. Students formed delegations that worked together to negotiate policies, sign pledges related to carbon emission caps and other climate change solutions, and more.
Top experts from the UN, World Business Council for Sustainable Development and other esteemed organizations also spoke at the simulation on issues such as climate refugees, reforestation and ocean health.
This year, the simulation was led in part by Mellissa Withers, director of the APRU Global Health Program at USC and associate professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and Shannon Gibson, associate professor of environmental studies, political science and international relations at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Gibson first became interested in working on the APRU Student Global Climate Change Simulation years ago, when she experienced an earlier iteration at a summit. She incorporated it into her own classroom, and later, with the help of Withers, “took the model and really expanded it.”
“I think as an educator, one of the things that you become aware of is that students learn by doing. They learn by putting themselves in the shoes of a decision-maker. By taking a student who may only have a perspective of the United States when it comes to climate change, having them function as China, or the Philippines, or South Africa really helps them to learn how the thinking varies,” she told USC Global.
Preparing for Careers in Global Health
The mock exercise ran for three days total — April 11, April 18 and April 25 — and drew students from multiple schools and disciplines within USC, including public health, computer science, business, international relations, environmental studies, global studies, occupational therapy and engineering.
Giancarlo Ceja, an international relations and environmental studies undergraduate student, hopes the simulation will impact his future career in environmental policy, using his education to help those living in countries most affected by climate change.
“In terms of environmental justice, I grew up in a very low-income, marginalized community in Southern California. My parents immigrated from a rural community in Mexico, and both are being affected in different ways by climate change. Marginalized, low-income communities around the world are most vulnerable to the brunt of the effects of climate change, and I want to help fix that,” he explained.
Ceja is also optimistic his fellow participants will end the mock conference more aware of how much work is yet to be done, especially by the world’s most powerful countries. While everyone has a role in combating climate change, some nations — specifically developed countries that have produced the most carbon emissions — have a higher responsibility to contribute to the fight against climate change, he said.
“Coming together in the international community and holding up to the commitments that you make is really important. Solving this problem is impossible without international cooperation,” explained Ceja, citing the UN’s common but differentiated responsibilities principle.
Like Ceja, environmental science and public health undergraduate student Abeerah Siddiqui was inspired to participate in the simulation to gain a new, universal outlook on today’s critical climate change challenges.
“We all have this collective interest in combating climate change, so this way, we can get a more global perspective on the issue. I think oftentimes, as students here, we’re a lot more familiar with how the U.S. handles [climate change]. We’re learning how our local communities are addressing the issues, but not so much how other countries and other parts of the world are tackling it,” she explained.
With an aspiring career in public health, Siddiqui believes the mock negotiations will allow her to further grasp international health care systems and policies, as well as come up with public health solutions that prioritize regional perspectives.
“The skills and knowledge I take away from this will help me [prepare] when it comes time for me to potentially visit other countries,” Siddiqui said.
Promoting a cross-industry response to climate change, the simulation also included Master of Business Administration (MBA) student Kayla Friedman-Barb, who is looking to enhance her education in clean and renewable solutions to pivot to the sustainability sector following graduation.
“Understanding other people’s perspectives is a huge part of business and [how we operate],” she said. “We need to understand how other countries think about climate change and what they see as the best ways to combat it, working together in order to have a truly collaborative solution.”
Friedman-Barb was particularly eager to learn from students who are based outside of the U.S., as the international negotiations would highlight what the U.S. and other countries are “willing to give up” or refuse to mediate in their respective commitments to tackling climate change.
“What’s important for each community and each person will become apparent, especially in younger generations who are participating in this program,” Friedman-Barb explained.
For Gibson, these students have perfectly articulated what she hopes they will take away from the process: an effective, international approach to protecting our shared planet.
Even if climate change is not a topic brimming with optimism, it’s a crucial one that will directly impact each and every participant — and Gibson is hopeful some students will go on to directly influence the fight against climate change.
“Sometimes, I wish it were a bit more hopeful, but it does show them climate mitigation is a political process,” Gibson said. “It’s not just a scientific problem. It is very much a political, social and economic issue, as well as a cultural problem. You need that interdisciplinary approach to understand how to solve this massive problem.”
Learn more about APRU and USC’s Department of Population and Public Health Sciences today.