In The Field

Climate war game: Podesta invokes the science

4 p.m.

United Nations Secretary General John Podesta (Center for American Progress) is increasing the pressure. When negotiations in a special break-out group handling emissions stalled out a while ago, Podesta intervened, slammed a copy of the modelling results down on the table and beseeched Chinese delegates, and others, to keep their eye on what is at stake (the planet). “We are not meeting our commitments,” he declared. Whether or not the UN secretary general’s word carries this kind of weight in the real world is debatable, but in the war game, the Chinese delegates in this particular meeting relented shortly thereafter.

This is an interesting development for Gary Jacobs, a science advisor in the game and director of the Environmental Sciences Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. First because Jacobs initially recommended that Podesta intervene, and second because Jacobs’ team performed the modelling that underpins the entire game. In addition to ensuring that the science is “plausible and credible,” Jacobs is interested in how the science gets used by policymakers in the war game. “I thought it would be valuable to see what others are asking of the science,” he says.

In some cases, those questions have focused on some difficult issues, including the threat of additional environmental refugees due to climate. Recall that there are some 250 million Bangladeshis camped on the border of India in 2015. For these and other people who might be affected by increased drought, flooding or sea level rise, “the questions is where are they going to go,” says Budhendra Bhaduri, an Oak Ridge modeller who, as it happens, is currently working on the issue. “This is virgin territory.”

The country teams are now back together, going over their positions on the suite of issues. All eyes are on the China, which is still struggling with a bit of internal dissension regarding the proposal to set specific targets for emissions reductions. The teams have less than an hour to complete their negotiations, and Podesta has once again been called in.

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