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The Climate Challenge

“Long live the planet. Long live Humanity. Long live life itself.”

Representatives of the 195 countries that took part in the COP21 Climate Change Summit in Paris have reached a historic agreement: to limit the rise in global temperatures to a maximum of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Apparently, this can be achieved if we drop to zero net carbon emissions before the century is out. How are we going to go about meeting such a valiant target? I played the BBC’s Climate Challenge game to find out.

COP21

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discusses draft text of the Paris Agreement with his advisors at COP21, Paris. Photo credit: United Nations Photo via Foter.com/ CC BY-NC-ND

The Climate Challenge

How the game works… As President of the European Union, it’s your job to choose policies that will tackle climate change and to encourage other nations to do the same. But it’s not all about carbon and energy, there still needs to be enough food and water for the population and you have to remain popular enough to stay in power.

The policies are divided into five categories: national, trade, industrial, local and household. You can select six policies per turn. Each policy impacts your resources, the environment and your popularity.

Before I start, you should note the massive limitation of this game: it is 10 years out of date. Plus, it really is just meant to be a game, not a scientific tool. Even so, let’s give it a go…

Setting the scene

It’s the 1990s and I am the leader of the European Union – all hail President Joanna. From a fairly basic selection of policies at this early stage of the game, I’ve chosen my first six. Nothing too radical here:

  1. Promote industrial energy efficiency
  2. Invest in water infrastructure
  3. Improve Building Regulations (I’ve got my architect hat on – how could I not choose this policy?)
  4. Introduce new fuel tax
  5. Promote recycling
  6. Promote cooperative windfarms

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Each subsequent turn spans 10 years worth of policies, which increase in sophistication and environmental impact as the decades pass by. What becomes available in future years will be partly dependant on the investments made in earlier years.

My best (and worst) decade

Having made everyone work until they’re 75 years old (sorry) to fund investment in the railway network, let’s now fast forward to the 2070s – the most significant decade of my presidency – which saw the following six policies put into action:

  1. Increase CO2 emissions tax (I must admit – this wasn’t a popular move)
  2. Encourage teleworking (apparently working from home causes a massive reduction in CO2 emissions with very little impact on the economy)
  3. Introduce Maglev trains (super-fast trains that can reach an alarming speed of 500km/h!)
  4. Subsidise fuel cell vehicles (cars run on hydrogen – what could possibly go wrong?)
  5. Decrease CO2 allowance (ouch – in retrospect there was a lot of financial pressures on the population this decade)
  6. Improve car fuel efficiency (should make policies 1 and 5 easier to swallow, right?)

The results are in

It’s 2100 and after my terrifyingly long presidency of a whole century, the fate of the environment has improved. Europe’s carbon emissions are now very low and the likely global temperature increase is 1.4-2.6°C. I’m not convinced this is substantial enough if we want a decent chance of keeping below the newly agreed maximum temperature rise of 1.5°C. This 10-year-old game is impressed though, scoring me 79% for Environment.

The Wealth score was somewhat less reassuring at 10%. Apparently, I left the economy in ruins. Hyper-inflation, joblessness, starvation, crime and extremism have gripped Europe. I must confess, these are the results of my third attempt at the game and this was the highest score I was able to achieve for Wealth. I have my suspicions that the game leans to this sort of result regardless of the efforts put into ensuring sufficient food and water resources. The message seems to be: if you want to save the planet, it’ll cost you the people.

If you have a spare 15 minutes, why not have a go yourself by launching the Climate Challenge game. I really hope that you can do better than me – for the sake of humanity.

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