Overline: UN Climate Change Conferences
Headline: Ambitious Climate Action Requires a Mindset Shift

Climate change is is accelerating rapidly but the results of the UN Climate Change Conferences regularly fall short of what is required. Does this have something to do with how these international conferences are organised? Could a new mindset help us to make more progress in the climate policy arena? Which inner qualities and mindsets are conducive to better forms of communication and collaboration? To explore these questions, a team of researchers designed a Reflection and Dialogue Space at the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference (COP25), where they organised 20 workshops and conducted interviews with conference participants. Now, a scientific analysis of the Reflection and Dialogue Space in a study published in the journal “Environmental Science and Policy” shows that a mindset shift is required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

COP25 letzter Tag im Reflection & Dialogue Space des IASS
Visitors to the Reflection and Dialogue Space at COP25 discussed the potential for improving the current COP culture IASS/ D. Stasiak

In cooperation with Chalmers University and  Lund University in Sweden and the University of East Anglia in the UK, the IASS designed and set up a “Co-Creative Reflection and Dialogue Space” at COP25. Visitors to the space were invited to talk about their perceptions of the current COP culture, the inner qualities and mindsets that could support a negotiation culture that’s more conducive to climate action, and how they could be cultivated. The aim was to fill a research gap: While there is a growing body of research that calls for greater consideration of inner dimensions to support transformation towards sustainability, very little is known about the skills that would support such a change. The results of the study can be summed up in the following points:

  • A mindset shift is already emerging across sectors and contexts.
  • It relates to new, relational modes of knowing, being and acting.
  • A paradigm shift has not yet happened at the collective level.
  • Safe spaces can function as a visible manifestation and catalyst.

The study authors also identify five clusters of transformative skills that play a particularly important role in sustainability transformations:

  • The ability to meet situations, people, others and one’s own thoughts and feelings with openness, presence and acceptance.
  • The ability and desire to see and meet oneself, others and the world with care, humility and integrity.
  • Perspective-seeking and relationality: The ability to see and bring in more perspectives for a broader, relational understanding of one's self, others and the whole (e.g. related to one's understanding of the state of the planet and how information is processed).
  • Agency, empowerment and sense-making: The ability to see and understand broader and deeper patterns, and our own role in the world in this regard. This also relates to optimistic/ hopeful emotions and attitudes.
  • Values-based courage and engagement: The ability to navigate oneself through the world, based on insights into what is important (intrinsic values), and to have the courage to act on them. It relates to principled action-oriented attitudes.

The results of the study can make a significant contribution to sustainable climate policy. IASS researchers are bringing these insights to bear in ongoing discussions about the necessary conceptual and structural changes to the COP format, which are currently being led by the Wuppertal Institute, the German Development Institute and others.

IASS researchers presented the initial findings of the study at the workshop It´s the End of the COP …as We Know it


Wamsler, C.; Schäpke, N.; Fraude, C., Stasiak, D.; Bruhn, T.; Lawrence, M.; Schroeder, H.; Mundaca, L.;: Enabling new mindsets  and transformative skills for negotiating and activating climate action: Lessons from UNFCCC conferences of the parties; Enviromental Science and Policy; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2020.06.005