Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Use of the Internet to Engage with Ongoing Negotiations in International Environmental Affairs
Originator Peter Hughes
Department School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Sunderland, UK
Tel. +44 (0)191 5152730
Fax +44 (0)191 5152730

Teaching of international environmental affairs has the potential to be revolutionised by the relatively new availability of resources on the Internet. As an area of study, it is difficult to keep up to date with developing global environmental management regimes: the Biodiversity Covention, CITES, Framework Convention on Climate Change etc. are constantly evolving, but published academic work is normally at least a year behind the times. The Internet now allows real-time access to negotiations, including meeting agendas, full access to documents tabled and discussed and even video and audio coverage.

The learning activity outlined here, capitalises on these resources, and also exposes and debates the different positions of various actors in the negotiation process. It is used as part of a final year geography and environmental studies module: 'International Environmental Affairs.' It assumes a familiarity with the critical use of the Internet for information retrieval.

Ideally, the tutor should select a meeting on one of the major global environmental issues that is scheduled to take place during the course of a module. The Conferences of Parties are ideal. This enables students to be researching and discussing these issues concurrently with the real-world discussions of politicians, NGOs, industry and academics. The particular activity presented here is based around negotiations on the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto protocol, but it could be adapted to other issues.

The activity takes place over two weeks, using Internet based research to inform an in-class 'mock negotiation' the following week. Initially the class (30-40 students) is divided into small groups of 3-5. Each group is given the task of researching the position & role of a particular actor in the process. For example, with the issue of climate change, groups can be formed around national interests: UK, USA, China; pre-formed regional or interest blocs: OPEC, AOSIS, EU, G77; experts: IPCC and lobby groups: Global Climate Coalition, Greenpeace International. URLs for websites specific to these interest groups, and for the Conference of Parties itself are provided. The groups can be set the general task of gaining insight into their particular actor's position, or they can be given more specific questions like: 'What does each actor think about Joint Implementation?'. Students are advised that no individual should spend more than two hours in preparation.

The 'mock negotiation' itself takes place the following week in a two hour teaching session. The classroom is organised 'cabaret style', with each small group arranged around a table. The groups are given thirty minutes to collate their research, and to prepare a flip-chart poster summary of their actor's position. Again, this may be given more focus by the tutor asking for comments on specific issues, perhaps those that feature highest on the agenda of the actual meeting that week. The posters are then displayed at the front of the room, and a member of each group presents a quick verbal summary. This part of the activity should insure that everybody is aware of the positions of the different participants.

After a short break, the second hour focuses on discussion and debate. Each group appoints 1 or 2 delegates who then rotate visits to the other groups. The tutor must ensure that delegates move on to another actor at short intervals. The delegates are given the task of persuading other groups of the worth of their position, and through this seek alliances. Around 30 minutes should be allowed for this part of the activity. A further 15 minutes is used for a tutor-facilitated plenary discussion and debate, with the students still in role. True to the real world, no real agreement is reached, but each actor has gained a better appreciation of other perspectives on the issue, and the main areas of agreement and contention are exposed. The remaining 5/10 minutes is used for an out of role review of the activity.

The activity has proved successful in developing students' awareness of Internet sources for this particular subject area; this can then be utilised by them in other aspects of the module. Through the emphasis on active learning, students have shown a greater ability to handle this material critically, and have generally shown a greater insight into the debates than previously when the material was handled through a more traditional lecture format. One problem is having to rely on students doing preparation, experience has shown that there is a small degree of non-participation, this can be addressed by clearly relating the activity to some aspect of assessment with group or individual coursework, or a designated exam question being possibilities.


Environmental issues
Role play

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