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Climate Change

Vak 2013-2014


[BSc] S

Admission Requirements

Global Challenges 2: Earth and Global Challenges 4: Energy.


Climate change represents one of the most pressing issues currently facing human societies. This course aims to introduce students to the key scientific issues that surround the climate change debate, the spatial patterns of both physical and human dimensions of climate change, and touches on a wider social and political context as this has important bearings upon both the scientific debate, policy responses and options to master the challenges of climate change. Topics covered in this course will be:

  • the climate system, world climate, and climatic characteristics
  • main factors contributing to natural climate change, methods of climate reconstruction for geologic (106) and Quaternary timescales (103 years)
  • climate change over the past 11000 years: sources of evidence, impact on human civilizations, feedbacks
  • modern anthropogenic forcings of the climate system
  • models, scenarios, and projections of future climate change
  • projected impact of climate change on the environment and human societies (weather extremes, biodiversity and biome distribution, land use, agriculture, water and food security in select world regions)
  • human dimensions of climate change: economic costs, mitigating climate change, and: who should pay the bill?

Course Objectives

Based on an introductory review on how the climate system works, students will learn what is driving climate change across a range of temporal and spatial scales, and how drivers of climate change interact with other earth cycles and human societies. During this course students develop knowledge and understanding of:

  • the interconnectedness of and feedbacks between the main controls of climate change, environmental earth processes and the human system,
  • the evidence for changes in key elements of the climate system (air temperature, ocean temperature, sea level, etc.)
  • the long-term perspective on natural climate change, how past climates change impacted societies, and what role paleoclimate research plays to understand current issues of climate change
  • the observations, approaches and theories used to project future climate change
  • the projected impact of climate change on the environment and human societies (globally and for select regions; potential social and economic consequences of climate change)
  • policy issues associated with climate change, the role of the media and various interest groups, and the struggle for solutions.

Furthermore, by focusing on evaluating scientific journal articles students develop skills and competence in the critically evaluating data, scientific arguments, and arguments brought up by different political and economic interest groups practiced giving a insightful presentation.

Mode of Instruction

This course will center on reading and discussing scientific journal articles and select sources to further the understanding of the past to recent history, drivers and effects as well as projections of future climate change. Monday sessions will introduce a facet of the climate change debate by means of a lecture and in-class discussions. So each week the group will read one or two papers in detail and discuss the content of these papers and the approach used to collect and present data and opinions. The Thursday sessions will be dedicated to a more in-depth discussion of a topic that is related to climate change. Depending on the number of students, each or paired students will delve into a topic of interest by means of editing a review paper (2500 words, 4000 words if pairing) that is related to climate change. Students will be responsible for identifying and reading thoroughly, at least 6 to 10 scientific papers dealing with the selected topic. Each paper shall be based on an annotated bibliography (one or two paragraphs long per paper/source). The review paper is basic to Thursday’s in-class presentation followed by a structured discussion led by students. The goal is to create a booklet (or facebook page) that reflects the current state of the climate change debate on the basis of the topics covered in this course.


To be confirmed in course syllabus:

Assessment formats include reading assignments, bi-weekly reading-based quizzes, in-class participation, a review paper (2500 words/4000 words), an oral presentation, and a student-led structured discussion (see table). Graded assessment will receive a score on a letter scale of F to A.

In-class participation: 15%
Bi-weekly quiz: 10%
Annotated bibliography: 15%
Review paper: 35%
Presentation and structured discussion: 25%


There will be no required textbook for the course because there is no single one that covered the material discussed in class.
Basic readings are the IPCC assessment reports (mainly AR4, and the report of Working Group 1 for AR5 (2013/2014; free downloads).

IPCC, 2013. Climate Change 2013 – The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Stocker, T.F., Qin, D., Plattner, G.-K., Tignor, M., Allen, S. K., Boschung, J., Nauels, A., Xia, Y., Bex, V., Midgley, P.M. (eds.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (UK), in press. []

IPCC, 2007. Fourth Assessment Report – Climate Change 2007 (AR4). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (UK). [Comprises four reports with different thematic foci;]

A more detailed list with readings will be provided with the syllabus. Reading and reference materials will accommodate recent literature and will be placed on Blackboard for the class.

Contact Information

Weekly Overview

  • Week 1: The climate system, main factors contributing to natural climate change
  • Week 2: Past climate change: Methods of climate reconstruction, the significance of paleoclimate information to understand current climate change
  • Week 3: Climate change over the past 11000 years, climate change impact on ancient civilizations
  • Week 4: Modern anthropogenic forcing of the climate system – how humans took over control of Earth
  • Week 5: Projected climate change impacts on the environment (weather extremes, water and food security, agriculture and land use)
  • Week 6: Climate science goes politics: a hazardous trip. Lessons learned (?) from the „Hockey Stick Debate“
  • Week 7: Solutions to mitigate climate change impact on human societies (costs, responsibility, justice)
  • Week 8 (Reading Week)

Preparation for first session

Course readings for Week 1 will be posted on Blackboard along with a notification of course participants a week before semester start.