Waterloo investigates the art of sustainability

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Waterloo tackled these questions as students participated in a mock Conference of the Parties (COP) inspired by the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change super summit taking place late November in Paris. The participants, most of whom are presently enrolled in Drama 374: Sustainability in Performance, discussed the global ramifications of climate change in the elaborate role play activity.   

Paul Cegys, a faculty instructor in drama and speech communication, as well as the instructor for Sustainability in Performance, initiated the project. The course, which intersects topics on theatre with topics on sustainability, is interdisciplinary with students from political science, environment, theatre, and history enrolled. Cegys believes the course is “groundbreaking” with little to no evidence of similar interdisciplinary studies currently offered at other institutions.

Cegys said that the goal of the mock COP is to “unlock or demystify global government regimes” as well as to “demystify how international law is made.”

The mock conference was set up as a delegation of countries in six blocks: the United States, European Union, Canada and other developing countries, China, India, and the G77. The students then spent three and a half hours discussing a variety of topics on climate change in their respective roles. The mock COP was designed to represent the final hours of what would typically be a two week process. Cegys described the audience turnout as “great,” stating that “it felt like a full room.”

But why is climate change such an important topic?

Studies show that if the climate warms two degrees Celsius or higher, the impact of national disasters and famine created will leave much of the planet uninhabitable. Presently, the two-degree warming could occur as soon as 2036. This was a theme among much of the discussion in the mock trial.

Cegys believes that after the event, the students had a better understanding of the delegates involved in the summit: “It is just human beings working to save the planet in the room.” 

Particularly, the mock COP was intended to dilute the complexity of international law for the students. “A really basic level is the performativity of the process,” he said, highlighting a theatrical element to discussing issues on a globally criticized platform.

Sarah Brown, a member of the Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change, agreed with Cegys: “It can be overwhelming to wrap your head around a process of global governance like the United Nations climate negotiations. The mock COP event was really great for bringing the issue to life so that the students involved could better appreciate the complexity and intensity of this international conference.”

Many of the students found the difficulty in reaching a compromise at the mock COP troubling. “The developed nations — Canada included — have some deluded priorities, which includes placing dollars over lives and the planet,” said Nada Abu-Saleh, one of the participants, adding “I’m ready to be disappointed by the real thing come November.”

Kelly Hornung, another participant, worked as a part of the delegation from China. Hornung described some of the difficulties that the participants had in reaching a compromise: “Majority-voting and backroom deals, as we saw, are some of the ways that parties can be slighted in the process.”

Interestingly, the mock COP presented an opportunity to analyze how backroom deals may occur at various summits.

For example, during COP15 in Copenhagen, a majority of the parties signed a two-degree agreement in a backroom deal. Outraged, the African block famously protested the agreement, feeling marginalized in the vote. Hornung recalls that this was also the case during the mock COP: “We had a similar situation occur in our mock; a majority [made an] agreement on a document that was not shown to everyone.”

As well, Hornung recalls consulting with her neighbouring blocks during the discussions: “During the COP, we would often quietly ask our neighbors (India and EU) and see if they were interested in things such as a carbon-trading scheme or were in agreement on certain phrasing of documents.” 

Cegys hopes that the Trudeau administration will take a leadership role in the delegation this month: “The Harper administration was obstructionary,” he said. “Under Trudeau, Canada will hopefully take a leadership role.”

Cegys mentioned that the mock COP was one activity in the course building towards an intervention performance piece Dec. 3. 

“[The final piece] will be based on what the students bring to it.”


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