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Student Instructor

Global Climate Change Policy

Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.
Students at a Model Diplomacy simulation.

3.1 Role

Welcome to your role as a participant in the National Security Council (NSC)! You should have received an email with your role assignment, but if you did not, you can view your assignment by clicking on the “My Simulations” tab on your account page. At this point, you should have reviewed essential background information about the NSC, read the case, watched the accompanying videos, and perused some of the additional reading. Whether you have been assigned a specific role as an individual or part of a group, or as a general advisor to the president, we suggest you read the case once again to identify material that is particularly relevant to your role or that requires further investigation. After that, you will conduct independent research as you write your position memo and prepare for the role-play.


There are four subsections that follow. Research and Preparation (3.2) will aid your research for the position memo and provide additional reading to guide your research; the Guide to the Memoranda (3.3) provides information about position memos and an example; and the Guide to the Role-Play (3.4) provides more information on the in-class role-play.


You can learn about your role by reading the information provided on your role sheet, which can be found in the Guide to the Role-Play section (3.4).  Review this information thoroughly and often, as your objectives and strategy in the position memo and role-play will be shaped by the institutional perspective of the role you have been assigned (unless you are playing a general advisor). After you finish the role-play and subsequent debrief, you will have an opportunity to share your personal thoughts and recommendations on this case in a policy review memo (Section Four, Wrap-up).

Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.GO TO SECTION 4.1

Case Roles

Description of Role:

The president is the head of state and commander in chief of the U.S. Armed Forces. He or she presides over National Security Council (NSC) meetings and listens to the advice and information presented by others. The president is not expected to be an expert on any single subject, but instead draws on the expertise of the NSC to analyze options and choose what he or she feels is the best policy to advance U.S. interests.

The president’s goals are to

  • select one or more policy options after considering the opinions and recommendations of NSC members; and
  • balance and promote U.S. interests, with an eye toward both immediate goals and long-term foreign policy strategy.

 

Issues for Consideration:

These can be used to frame the role-play and encourage debate among fellow NSC members.

  • What are the diplomatic, economic, environmental, and political trade-offs raised by various potential policy options on climate change? What is the best way to define and pursue U.S. interests in this area?
  • What interest does the United States have in mitigating the effects of climate change? How should climate change be weighed in terms of importance relative to other U.S. foreign policy issues? 
  • What are the attitudes of Congress and the American public on various climate change policies, whether domestic or contained in an international agreement? Do these attitudes vary by age, geographic region, income, or other demographic indicators? What views have businesses and business associations expressed on climate change and on proposed mitigation policies? How should these attitudes and opinions shape U.S. climate policy and the U.S. negotiating posture internationally? 
  • What are the relative merits of a top-down agreement versus a bottom-up approach? How should these advantages and disadvantages influence U.S. strategy at the summit?
  • What are the economic implications, both at home and abroad, of reducing U.S. reliance on fossil fuels and increasing the use of renewable energy? How would American workers and consumers experience this change?

 

Research Leads: 

Description of Role:

The vice president must be ready at a moment’s notice to assume the presidency if the commander in chief is unable to perform her or his duties. Vice presidents can play a relatively active role on the National Security Council (NSC), serving as a general advisor and freely advocating their own positions during meetings. In particular, the president may ask the vice president to serve as an independent voice, untethered to any of the agencies represented by other NSC participants. The president may also ask about the interaction between the issue at hand and the domestic political situation, including in Congress.

The vice president’s goals are to

  • provide advice to the president on any topic, including those overlooked by other NSC participants; and
  • understand the range of views in Congress and work to build congressional and public support for the president’s chosen approach.

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • What interest does the United States have in mitigating the effects of climate change? How should climate change be weighed in terms of importance relative to other U.S. foreign policy issues?
  • What are the attitudes of Congress and the American public on various climate change policies, whether domestic or contained in an international agreement? Do these attitudes vary by age, geographic region, income, or other demographic indicators? What views have businesses and business associations expressed on climate change and on proposed mitigation policies? How should these attitudes and opinions shape U.S. climate policy and the U.S. negotiating posture internationally? 
  • What are the relative merits of a top-down agreement versus a bottom-up approach? How should these advantages and disadvantages influence U.S. strategy at the summit?
  • What are the economic implications, both at home and abroad, of reducing U.S. reliance on fossil fuels and increasing the use of renewable energy? How would American workers and consumers experience this change? Could different regions or areas experience these changes differently? 
  • What are the diplomatic, economic, environmental, and political trade-offs raised by various potential policy options on climate change? What is the best way to define and pursue U.S. interests in this area? 

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The secretary of defense is the principal defense policy advisor to the president, under whose direction he or she exercises authority over the Department of Defense. In National Security Council (NSC) meetings, the secretary analyzes the security situation in the relevant region and explains the likely implications of U.S. military involvement, both for the immediate crisis and for the United States’ overall strategic position.

The secretary of defense’s goals are to

  • understand the options for and feasibility of any military action, as well as its possible outcomes; and
  • identify ways to prevent the deterioration of a crisis to the point where it mandates U.S. military intervention.

 

Issues for Consideration: 

  • Scientists project that some effects of climate change are apparent now, and some will become apparent or get worse over time. What should the military be thinking about and preparing for now, and what should it be planning for in the longer term?
  • How and how effectively have U.S. armed forces responded to large-scale natural disasters in the past? What lessons might that hold for responding to climate-related disasters? What if any criteria should the United States use to determine whether and how to help in such situations? 
  • What do the potential effects of climate change on military and national security interests suggest about the desirability of U.S. action on climate change and/or an international agreement? (Consider in particular some core areas of U.S. military importance—for example, the Middle East and Asia.) How do these concerns weigh against other national security priorities?
  • Climate change is expected to bring more extreme weather, a melting Arctic, rising sea levels, and a number of other physical changes to the environment. What capabilities might the military need to develop or improve in preparation for these changes?
  • How might climate change affect military installations globally? Is it expected to have a significant budget impact for the Pentagon? How might that impact affect the Defense Department’s interest in this area?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The Department of State maintains the U.S. diplomatic presence around the world, conducting foreign relations and using an on-the-ground perspective to generate country-specific knowledge. As head of the department, the secretary draws on this knowledge to present an authoritative view of the United States’ bilateral relationships, the relationships between foreign countries, and the behavior and interests of foreign governments.

The secretary of state’s goals are to

  • serve as the president’s principal foreign policy advisor; and
  • analyze how policy options will affect the interests, reputation, and relationships of the United States.

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • What obstacles have hindered the creation and implementation of effective international climate change agreements? 
  • How does climate change factor into major international relationships? Is this a priority in some relationships but not in others? How does it compare to other foreign policy priorities? How should that influence U.S. negotiating strategy?
  • How does the United States’ past role in climate change negotiations and its domestic climate-related policies affect its standing at future summits and its diplomatic relationships more broadly? How might that affect its negotiating position or expectations of other countries? 
  • What are the positions and interests of other major greenhouse gas emitters such as China, Brazil, and India? What about major European countries? In particular, what does the phrase “common but differentiated responsibilities” mean and what significance has it had for bilateral, regional, and multilateral climate negotiations?
  • What is the current context of international climate negotiations, as shaped by the Paris climate agreement? What are the areas of momentum and the obstacles for further bilateral or multilateral efforts?
  • What are the relative merits of a top-down agreement versus a bottom-up approach? How should these advantages and disadvantages influence U.S. strategy at the summit?


Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The Department of the Treasury carries out policy on issues related to the U.S. and global economies and financial systems. The secretary of the treasury, as head of this department, serves as one of the president’s chief economic advisors. In National Security Council (NSC) meetings, he or she analyzes the economic dimensions of foreign policy issues and weighs the potential impact of policy options on U.S. economic concerns, including growth, trade and investment, and the position of the U.S. dollar.

The secretary of the treasury’s goals are to

  • serve as a senior presidential advisor on economic policy; and
  • determine how foreign policy options might affect the U.S. economy and financial system, the global economy, and economic relations between the United States and others.

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • What economic tools, whether incentives or disincentives, might be helpful in advancing U.S. goals on climate change?
  • What are some of the arguments about how various policy responses aimed at mitigating climate change, such as a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system, could affect the U.S. and global economies? Are there steps the government could take to minimize potential negative effects or accentuate potential positive ones?
  • How might the United States’ trade relationships and economic interests change as a result of climate change–related shifts in agricultural production, shipping routes, the abundance of natural resources, and other phenomena? What changes are likelier in the near term and which are longer-term changes? 
  • What are the economic implications, both at home and abroad, of reducing U.S. reliance on fossil fuels and increasing the use of renewable energy? How would American workers and consumers experience this change? Could different regions or areas experience these changes differently? 
  • What benefits do other countries derive from fossil fuel production and use? Why do some low- and middle-income countries want to be able to continue to use fossil fuels, and what does this mean for global climate change negotiations? 

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The secretary of energy leads the Department of Energy, which carries out U.S. policy on energy, environmental, and nuclear issues. In National Security Council (NSC) meetings, the secretary must consider the energy-related dimensions of foreign policy issues, any energy-related tools that might form part of the U.S. response, and the implications of policy decisions for the American energy supply and environment.

The secretary of energy’s goals are to 

  • formulate and evaluate energy-related measures as part of policy options; and
  • gauge the implications of foreign policy decisions on U.S. energy security and environmental concerns. 

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • On what mix of energy sources does the United States rely, and what are the emissions associated with each element of this mix? Which industries or sectors are the largest consumers of energy? How does the U.S. energy sector compare with that of other major countries, whether industrialized or developing? 
  • What might be the economic and environmental implications of reducing U.S. reliance on fossil fuels and increasing the use of renewable energy? What role, if any, should the government play in promoting such a transition? 
  • What does the current “shale revolution” and energy boom in the United States mean for U.S. climate change mitigation efforts? In addition, to what extent can the United States rely on nuclear energy to provide a low-carbon power source in the future? What challenges does that industry face?
  • What role do various energy-related constituencies, such as climate change deniers, climate activists, consumers, and energy executives, play in shaping U.S. policy on climate change? What are their interests and goals? How does this affect U.S. action in international negotiations?
  • What benefits do other countries derive from fossil fuel production and use? Why do some low- and middle-income countries want to continue to use fossil fuels, and what does this mean for global climate change negotiations? 

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The attorney general is the head of the Department of Justice and the chief lawyer of the U.S. government. The department represents the United States in legal matters, including by prosecuting violations of federal law. In National Security Council (NSC) meetings, the attorney general gives the president advice and opinions on the legal aspects of policies under consideration.

The attorney general’s goals are to

  • consider the legal elements and implications of U.S. foreign policy options; and
  • ensure that any policies decided by the NSC are in compliance with domestic and international law.

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • What are U.S. obligations under past climate change agreements? What does the difference between signing and ratifying a treaty mean for the United States? 
  • Under what conditions does the president have legal authority to unilaterally institute climate change mitigation efforts, such as regulatory standards for automobiles or power plants? What is the role of Congress in climate change policy?
  • What steps would be required by the U.S. government, including the executive branch and Congress, to implement various policy options agreed upon at an international summit? What legal questions might arise in this process?
  • What, if any, international legal structures exist or are needed to facilitate the implementation of a climate change agreement, including by monitoring and verifying countries’ adherence to their promises?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

Created after September 11, 2001, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) focuses on such issues as terrorism prevention, border security and immigration, disaster response, and cybersecurity. Agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Secret Service, and the Transportation Security Administration are part of this department. The secretary must help the president and other National Security Council (NSC) members understand any risks to the United States and its citizens that may arise from the situation and possible policy responses.

The secretary of homeland security’s goals are to

  • advise the president on the homeland security dimensions of crises and potential policy responses, including any threats or implications for U.S. border security; and
  • ensure the implementation of steps to protect the country and manage any security risks arising from the issue under consideration.

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • In what ways does climate change affect U.S. national security? What interest does the United States have in mitigating the effects of climate change? How does it compare to other national security threats?
  • How might certain consequences of climate change, such as more extreme weather, damage U.S. infrastructure and endanger coastal cities and other areas? What might this mean for U.S. homeland security, and how can the department respond? 
  • How might the potential consequences of climate change, such as natural disasters and food shortages, cause instability or conflict around the world? What effect might this have on U.S. national security and the safety of U.S. citizens at home? On what timeline are those effects likely to occur?
  • How might the effects of climate change alter the number and origin of immigrants and refugees seeking entry into the United States? What might this mean for the U.S. economy and society, and what if anything should the government be doing to prepare?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The role of the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations (UN) is to advance U.S. foreign policy interests in the bodies and forums of the UN system. Reporting to the secretary of state, the permanent representative helps formulate and articulate the U.S. position on all political and security matters under discussion at the UN. At National Security Council (NSC) meetings, he or she outlines policy steps available to the United States at the UN and advises NSC participants on the positions and actions of other UN member states.

The U.S. permanent representative to the UN’s goals are to

  • advise the president and secretary of state on the diplomatic actions the United States can or should take at the UN; and
  • promote the United States’ interests and values at the UN.

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • What role has the United Nations and its component parts played in building understanding of climate change and developing effective multilateral responses? What lessons can be drawn from its experience? What more can the UN do? How do the political aims of member states help or hinder UN effectiveness?
  • How should the United States articulate its interests and views on climate change at the UN? What tools, such as meetings, resolutions, and funding streams, are available? 
  • What are the positions and interests of other major greenhouse gas emitters such as China, Brazil, and India, as well as European and other major powers? What actions have these countries taken in UN bodies and forums, especially UNFCCC negotiations? Which countries are likely to be allies to the United States in negotiations? Which are likely to be rivals?
  • How might past international accords on climate change, such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol, or the Paris Agreement, inform a future agreement? What lessons can be learned from their successes or failures? What obstacles have prevented successful creation and implementation of broad and binding climate change agreements, and what might help overcome them? 
  • What are the relative merits of a top-down agreement versus a bottom-up approach? How should these advantages and disadvantages influence U.S. strategy at the summit?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The chief of staff oversees the Executive Office of the President, which provides the president with support to govern effectively. This post has traditionally been home to many of the president’s closest advisors. In National Security Council (NSC) meetings, the chief of staff ensures that the president has the necessary analysis on the full range of factors relevant to the case, including the U.S. political situation. He or she also guides the process of implementing and communicating presidential decisions.

The chief of staff’s goals are to

  • highlight the domestic implications of U.S. foreign policy choices; and
  • develop strategies to carry out the president’s policy and communicate it to U.S. and international audiences.

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • In what ways does climate change affect U.S. national security and economic growth? What interest does the United States have in mitigating the effects of climate change? How does climate change compare in importance to other domestic policy priorities?
  • What are the attitudes of Congress and the American public on various climate change policies, whether domestic or contained in an international agreement? Do these attitudes vary by age, geographic region, income, or other demographic indicators? What views have businesses and business associations expressed on climate change and on proposed mitigation policies? How should these attitudes and opinions shape U.S. climate policy and the U.S. negotiating posture internationally? 
  • The Kyoto Protocol failed to gain congressional support because it did not place demands on developing countries and, according to opponents, could have made U.S. businesses less competitive. What specific lessons should negotiators draw from that outcome?
  • What steps would be required by the U.S. government, including the executive branch and Congress, to implement various policy options agreed upon at an international summit? How can the president best articulate his or her decision and communicate it to the American people and the world?
  • What are the most important factors for the president to balance when making a decision? What types of analysis would be most useful for other members of the National Security Council to present?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The national security advisor (NSA) has a special role in crisis management, serving as the “honest broker” for the national security policy process. Although the president makes final decisions, the NSA is responsible for ensuring that he or she has all the necessary information, that a full range of viable policy options has been articulated, that the prospects for success and failure have been identified, that any legal issues have been addressed, and that all members of the National Security Council (NSC) have had the opportunity to contribute.

The national security advisor’s goals are to

  • facilitate the president’s consideration of issues by keeping the NSC discussion on track and guiding it toward concrete policy options; and
  • build trust as an honest broker among the other NSC participants.

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • In what ways does climate change affect U.S. national security? What interest does the United States have in mitigating the effects of climate change? How does this interest compare to its interests in other foreign policy priorities?
  • How might the potential consequences of climate change, such as natural disasters and food shortages, cause instability or conflict around the world? What effect might this have on U.S. national security and the safety of U.S. citizens at home? On what timeline are those effects likely to occur?
  • What is the full range of issues involved in the debate over climate change policy, such as energy, the environment, U.S. and global economic stability, and peace and security? What trade-offs might result from various potential policy options? How can the president and NSC members best evaluate, balance, and pursue U.S. interests in order to determine a policy approach?
  • Where does climate change fit in the broader range of national security concerns facing the United States? To what extent should climate change policy take precedence? 
  • What are the most important factors for the president to balance when making a decision? What types of analysis would be most useful for other members of the NSC to present?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The U.S. intelligence community consists of seventeen agencies and organizations that gather and analyze intelligence to help policymakers formulate and implement U.S. foreign policy. The director of national intelligence oversees this network of agencies. He or she focuses on providing the latest relevant information to National Security Council (NSC) members and articulating the capabilities and interests of the intelligence community.

The director of national intelligence’s goals are to

  • provide complete, accurate, and up-to-date information to the NSC on the situation under discussion; and
  • serve as the principal advisor to the president and the NSC on intelligence matters.

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • What are the interests, motivations, and goals of various countries most affected by climate change or climate change mitigation efforts? What role do different constituencies in the most important countries play in shaping those interests? In particular, how do rising powers such as China figure into this debate?
  • How might the nature of global phenomena such as terrorism, conflict, pandemics, and migration change because of climate-related trends or events? What implications might this have for U.S. national security? On what timeline are those changes likely to occur? How do those consequences compare to other foreign policy priorities?
  • Which countries or regions are likely to feel the effects of climate change soonest and/or most severely? Who are the United States’ allies, friends, or adversaries in those areas, and what are the principal U.S. interests? How might those interests be affected by the changing climate? How might those countries be brought into a climate agreement?
  • What are the various capacities of industrialized and developing countries to adapt to changes projected to occur in their agriculture, industry, and infrastructure as a result of climate change–related phenomena? What does this suggest about these countries’ positions and interests in negotiations at the upcoming summit?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) is the highest-ranking member of the U.S. military and the principal military advisor to the president, the secretary of defense, the National Security Council (NSC), and the Homeland Security Council. The CJCS does not exercise command authority over U.S. troops. Instead, he or she works with the heads of the U.S. military services to provide advice to the president and other senior leaders.

The CJCS’s goals are to

  • serve as the president’s military advisor on the NSC; and
  • advise the president on specific military options and the corresponding risks, benefits, and implications.

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • How and how effectively have U.S. armed forces responded to large-scale natural disasters in the past? In what ways might the U.S. military work with foreign militaries to mitigate the effects of climate-related events such as extreme weather and famine?
  • What do the potential effects of climate change on military and national security interests suggest about the desirability of U.S. action on climate change and/or an international agreement? What are the potential effects of climate change on U.S. military and national security interests? When are those effects projected to occur? How do they compare to other U.S. military objectives? How do the answers to these questions affect your recommendation for how the United States should define its objectives in international climate negotiations?
  • Which countries or regions are likely to feel the effects of climate change soonest and/or most severely? Who are the United States’ allies, friends, or adversaries in those areas, and what are the principal U.S. interests? How might those interests be affected by the changing climate? 
  • Climate change is expected to bring more extreme weather, a melting Arctic, rising sea levels, and a number of other physical changes to the environment. What capabilities might the military need to develop or improve in preparation for these changes?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

Established in 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the agency responsible for coordinating and executing federal policy on the environment. The EPA administrator’s primary responsibilities as head of this agency include creating and enforcing standards and regulations on matters such as pollution and air and water safety. Since September 11, 2001, the EPA has also worked on issues of homeland security relevant to the environment, such as decontamination in the event of a terrorist attack.

The EPA administrator’s goals are to

  • advise the president on environmental policy and related issues of human health; and
  • foster a leadership role for the United States in international debates over environmental issues.

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • What powers does the EPA have to regulate greenhouse gas emissions? What measures are currently in place, and what is known about their effects?
  • What steps would be required by the U.S. government to implement various policy options on climate change? Which policies are likely to be most and least feasible to implement in the near term, taking into account political support, bureaucratic complexity, and past experience?
  • What are the major sources of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., power plants, industry, and transportation)? Within these categories, are there particular power sources or industries that are bigger emitters than others? What changes to these sectors—and to the U.S. economy and Americans’ lifestyles more broadly—might be required if the United States signed an international agreement committing it to a certain level of emissions reductions?
  • What are the major steps the United States could take to limit its greenhouse gas emissions, whether unilaterally or as part of an international agreement? What might their economic and societal implications be, and how would these implications vary in different parts of the country and different segments of American society?
  • What is the attitude of the American public on various climate change policies, whether domestic or contained in an international agreement? What are the contours of the broader debate in U.S. politics and society over the existence, causes, and possible responses to climate change?

 

Research Leads:

Description of Role:

The general advisor offers analysis and recommendations that are unconstrained by the interests of any department or agency. He or she is tasked with providing a comprehensive assessment of the situation at hand and ideas for policy options that serve U.S. interests.

The general advisor’s goals are to

  • understand the breadth of the issue and outline its stakes for the United States; and
  • advise the president on the range of policy options proposed by all NSC members.

 

Issues for Consideration:

  • In what ways does climate change affect U.S. national security and economic growth? What interest does the United States have in mitigating the effects of climate change? 
  • What are the economic implications, both at home and abroad, of reducing U.S. reliance on fossil fuels and increasing the use of renewable energy? How would American workers and consumers experience this change? Could different regions or areas experience these changes differently? 
  • What are the relative merits of a top-down agreement versus a bottom-up approach? What are the diplomatic, economic, environmental, and political trade-offs raised by each approach, and how should these influence U.S. strategy at the summit?
  • What are the positions and interests of other major greenhouse gas emitters such as China, Brazil, and India? What about major European countries? In particular, what does the phrase “common but differentiated responsibilities” mean and what significance has it had for bilateral, regional, and multilateral climate negotiations?
  • What are the attitudes of Congress and the American public on various climate change policies, whether domestic or contained in an international agreement? Do these attitudes vary by age, geographic region, income, or other demographic indicators? What views have businesses and business associations expressed on climate change and on proposed mitigation policies? How should these attitudes and opinions shape U.S. climate policy and the U.S. negotiating posture internationally? 

 

Research Leads:

This is a customized role created by the instructor. Please see your instructor for your role description.

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