Participation at the Conference for the Vienna Agreement of Food Nutrition and Security

February 21, 2020

In early January, we participated in the model UN Conference for the Vienna Agreement of Food Nutrition and Security at the UN Headquarters in Vienna. Our students and staff share some profound reflections gathered on international policy-making and governance processes:

Student’s Reflections:

16 bright-eyed and excited MESP/OM students participated in the Conference for the Vienna Agreement of Food Nutrition Security on January 14-15. The CEU UN Negotiation Club was established in September of 2019. We met once a week from then until the conference, discussing issues of food security and nutrition, researching our specific countries, and simulating a UN resolution draft.

We arrived at the UN headquarters in Vienna, joining another 80 students ready to represent countries from the African Group, the Arab League, the BASIC group, Like-Minded Developing Countries, Least Developed Countries, Small Developing Island States, South America, the G77 and the EU.

Although intimidating to walk into a real negotiation room, with real country placards and real-life translators, within the first few rounds of plenary sessions and group negotiations, our members started to find their feet. Considering that we had prepared as a club rather than a class, we all negotiated with intelligence and diplomacy. After two days of tedious negotiations, we collectively agreed upon the Preamble, Article 1 and Article 2.

As students of Environmental Science, we left the conference disappointed and a bit disillusioned by U.N. policy and the policy process. We were expecting more urgency and action on an issue as grave as food and nutrition security in the face of a changing climate, however we realized that our stimulation was a more realistic reflection of real U.N. negotiations than we would have liked. In one of our lunch breaks, a man with real U.N. negotiation experience, who had been observing the conference said that he almost believed that this was a real U.N. negotiation, the only difference being that the student delegates had much more enthusiasm and hope.

The Conference for the Vienna Agreement of Food Nutrition and Security was a formidable learning experience. While the feeling of disappointment may linger, the conference made us realize the importance of environmental advocacy and strong policy, maybe not on an international level, but that maybe the real change happens in the communities we call home.

Prof. Antypas’ Reflections:

I attended the model United Nations focusing on environmental migration put on by the University of Vienna and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (Vienna) at the United Nations complex in Vienna in February 2019 and was struck by the professionalism and realism of the exercise. Colleagues from these universities invited CEU to participate and this year we were able to send a CEU contingent from the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy to Vienna. The outcome was more positive than I had thought it would be, and my expectations were already very high.

This year the theme was food and nutrition security, and our students spent the semester preparing for the model UN in a club that we organized. Sessions were largely organized and run by the students themselves who came with presentations, resources, and most of all, a willingness to engage on a very serious level. I was impressed throughout the semester and also highly confident that our students would be able to perform on a par with the students from Vienna, all of whom were receiving ECTS credits for their participation in a preparatory course and for the model UN itself. 

The exercise itself was, in my view, brilliant. What made it so was its true-to-life character. Having been trained in negotiating procedures and guided by a competent chair, the negotiators immediately went down into the trenches to start to hammer out the text of a resolution, clause by clause. In so doing they found themselves facing multiple obstacles, including intransigent negotiators and competing national interests. The going was slow and arduous. Some of our students indeed found it tedious and exasperating.

From the perspective of someone who teaches global environmental governance, this was excellent news. It’s one thing to tell students that negotiating international environmental agreements presents an enormous collective action problem. It is another thing entirely to experience that problem first-hand, or at least a realistic facsimile of it. In the world in which we currently live, nation states are dominant actors, and global and international environmental problems simply require coordination and cooperation between them, yet achieving agreement is profoundly difficult. This is how it is, and knowing it directly and not just theoretically provides valuable insight.

Our students indeed performed very well, supporting their country groupings, negotiating hard and addressing the plenary eloquently and effectively. I could not have been more pleased. Some discovered that they are very good at this kind of work and enjoyed it, and others discovered that despite being good at it they found it disagreeable. Again, this was a very positive outcome for everyone, providing unique information to people just starting to plot their careers. Diplomacy really isn’t for everyone, much less professional negotiating. Yet for those who have a calling, diplomacy can be deeply rewarding. The world needs bridge builders, and at their best this is what diplomats achieve.

Congratulations to the students who participated and made this happen, and many thanks to the department, the Student Union and the Office of Student Affairs for covering the expenses that allowed our group to travel to Vienna for this two-day event. Finally, thanks to Steve Stec who helped guide the preparatory process at a critical moment.