Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Global Climate Change: Debates and Impacts
Academic Year
Semester 2
External Examiners
  • Dr Catherine Delaney (Senior Lecturer - Manchester Metropolitan University)
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 11 x 3 Hour Lectures


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment FILM: A 5-7 minute long video summarising IPCC climate science consensus and evaluating the sceptical arguments against the consensus  30%
Semester Assessment REPORT: Impact case study. Utilise IPCC predictions to demonstrate how environmental processes are likely to change in a self-selected region, process or environment (3000 words)  70%
Supplementary Assessment Resubmission of failed/non-submitted coursework components only if the overall module mark is a fail.  100%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

Summarise the predicted changes in temperature, precipitation and other hydro-climatic parameters for different regions using the latest IPCC document.

Critically assess the different ways in which the IPCC findings are portrayed by different media outlets, pressure groups and organisations.

Evaluate the field, laboratory and modeling methods that are used to predict the effects of changing climate on a range of environmental processes.

Utilise climate change predictions to deduce likely future changes in environmental processes.

Brief description

This module will be taught in ten two-hour sessions, which are organised into three thematic sections. In the section A, students are introduced to the IPCC report on climate change. For the first assignment students will make a short film to highlight the different ways in which the findings of the IPCC synthesis report have been portrayed in the media by a variety of groups, including sceptical organisations.

In section B, there are a series of staff-led research case studies. The topics covered in this section may vary but indicative topics relate to the effects of changing climate on the carbon and nitrogen cycles and the ecosystem services they provide. This provides the framework and guidance for the final section and the second assignment.

In section C, students research and develop their own impact case studies on an environment, process or region of their choice. Guidance is provided in workshops where students are helped to develop their ideas. They then present them orally to the group in order to obtain formative feedback, before writing up their reports for the second assignment.


Section A. Introduction to the Module and the IPCC Report.

1. Introduction to the module and the IPCC 5th Assessment Report (Physical Science)

Students are briefed on the module structure and assignments. Key resources are provided, including the IPCC 5th Assessment Report. Discussion on the contested portrayal of climate science from various sources including, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, James Delingpole, Christopher Monckton, George Monbiot, The Guardian, Fred Pearce). Assignment 1 set.

2. Discussion of the IPCC 5th Assessment Report (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability).

The second major IPCC document on "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability" is introduced and discussed. Students will introduce key concepts of one aspect (chosen in previous week) and lead a discussion to digest and evaluate the findings. Progress on assignment 1 will be discussed.

3. Presentation of media portrayal of IPCC climate science film (Assignment 1).

Students present their completed short films on the media portrayal of the IPCC document. The video content, style, and ability to respond to questions will be assessed.

Section B. Staff-led research case studies (indicative topics, these may vary)

4. Will the currently stable Kalahari dune-fields remobilise?

There is considerable debate over the future stability of the Kalahari. Climate models have been used to demonstrate that aridification of southern Africa will lead to widespread dune reactivation and a collapse of the pastoral economy. However, other work has concluded that for the foreseeable future, and despite increasing aridity, dunes will remain stable with little impact on ecosystem productivity. This lecture critically examines these competing predictions. Assignment 2 set.

5. Soil carbon stores: Win-win or lose-lose scenarios?

Soils are the largest terrestrial store of C, and CO2 from soils is the largest source of C to the atmosphere. Warming increases soil microbial activity and the rate at which organic C is broken down and released as CO2. Will warming lead to a collapse of soil organic matter and the ecosystem services soil provides, consequently accelerating soil CO2 emissions (the lose-lose scenario)? Or can we use strategies to protect soil C, keep it in soil and out of the atmosphere (the win-win scenario)?

6. Changes in global nitrogen cycling: how is recent nitrogen deposition affecting ecosystem processes?

N is an essential nutrient for life, but mineral N is now being produced on industrial scales and in far greater quantities than in the past. While increased production, mainly as a fertilizer, has allowed global food production to keep pace with growing human demands, it can also decrease water and air quality, reduce plant species diversity and exacerbate global warming. This lecture examines how global N availability (the supply of N relative to the demand) has changed over different temporal scales and discusses concerns about whether the biosphere is able to soak up this extra N and what that means for future ecosystem processes.

7. Climate impacts on tropical Andean ecosystems: What are the implications for natural resource availability in a biodiversity hotspot?

The highly diverse ecosystems of the elevated tropical Andes are vulnerable to increasing human occupation and future climate change. To develop an effective policy to conserve and manage this ecosystem, a robust understanding of the region's natural history, current pressures, and predicted
climate change are required. In this lecture, we examine on-going alterations in this mountain environment on different spatial and temporal scales, discuss the implications for ecosystem services and natural resources, and assess the consequences for the rural and urban populations.

Section C. Student-led case studies and workshops.

8. Student presentations of case studies

Students orally present their progress and ideas on assignment 2. Although this is not summatively a

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number It is essential that students engage with the quantitative predictive model outputs from the IPCC, as well as demonstrate an understanding of the numerical uncertainty surrounding the predictions. Students will be encouraged to think critically about uncertainty, the way uncertainty is communicated and the methods (which may be mathematical, statistical or models) used to predict the effects of climatic changes on environmental processes.
Communication Oral communication will be encouraged during seminars and workshops. There is a formative oral presentation of their impact case study and an assessed presentation of a film. Written communication is assessed through the impact case study report.
Improving own Learning and Performance Students will be expected to undertake a significant amount of self-directed study, including extensive reading for the film and impact case study report. As the latter part of the module is largely self-directed, students will be required to develop self- and time-management skills, with guidance from the module coordinator. The individual formative presentation provides an opportunity to obtain and reflect on feedback from the group and module co-ordinator on progress in the impact case study.
Information Technology Students will be expected to use a range of information technology in the presentation of their assignments. Basic freeware, such as Windows Movie Maker can be used to compile, edit and play video footage. Students will also become familiar with the critical use of online source materials such as journals, policy documents, the IPCC report and sceptical blogs. Some students may choose to use GIS software or freely available remote sensing data as part of the impact case study report. Others may wish to use Excel or statistical packages to interrogate databases, generate analyses and graphical outputs.
Personal Development and Career planning The unit will develop high level skills in synthesising, evaluating and presenting complex information. The presentation of information, orally and in written reports, will also be a key part of the module. A degree of numerical competency is also required to understand and apply model outputs. Students will be exposed to a range of methods that can be utilised to help make predictions of how ecosystems will respond. This is useful preparatory experience for PhD research, and positions in environmental consultancies, conservation groups, the Environment Agency and the newly formed Natural Resources Wales.
Problem solving Not explicitly developed or assessed. However, students will have to decide how to summarise the IPCC findings as well as sceptical arguments and make them into an engaging film. They will also have to apply climate change predictions from the latest IPCC document to determine likely effects on a range of environmental processes.
Research skills Students will undertake a significant degree of independent researching for the film, formative presentation and impact case study report.
Subject Specific Skills Interpretation of climate model outputs and application to ecosystem processes.
Team work Seminars and workshops will involve group-based discussions and activities. This is not formally assessed.


This module is at CQFW Level 7