Welcome to SchoolClimateScience.Info, a website that aims to provide teachers and students with the information they need to understand climate change – what it is, how human activity is causing it, and what we can do about it now, and in the future. 

The following article, from a provincial New Zealand newspaper, shows that worries about carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels are nothing new. 

Irish scientist, John Tyndall*, carried out experiments in the 1850s to measure how gases such as water vapour and carbon dioxide affect the amount of the Sun's energy that is absorbed by our atmosphere. Tyndall realised that, without them, the surface temperature of our planet would be over 30oC colder; life (as we know it) could not exist!

* He did not know it, but some of Tyndall's work was predated by an American woman, Eunice Newton Foote, who made similar observations three years earlier, but whose work has only recently been dicovered.

In the 1890s, Swedish chemist, Svante Arrhenius, was the first to understand that human activity (burning coal) might add to Earth’s natural greenhouse effect and, "in a few centuries", lead to climate change. He published his findings in 1903. Few people took him seriously except, maybe, an observant reporter  in New Zealand?

So, what’s new? When Arrhenius published his ideas, cars and lorries and power stations had barely been invented and large-scale extraction of oil and gas had not begun. Global population was then under 2 billion; now it has passed 8 billion. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere back then was around 280 ppm (parts per million); now it is 420 ppm and rising alarmingly. Arrhenius could not foresee what was to come – indeed, it is only since the 1980s that scientists and politicians have begun to sit up and take notice! We are now seeing a real increase in storms and droughts, floods and wildfires, and beginning to understand that here is a problem that we urgently need to tackle. 


The first step to tackling a problem is to understand what the problem is...

This is more fully & eloquently expressed in "Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science" , a booklet produced by NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) and partner organisations (2009).


At present, the school curriculum (in UK) seems to cover climate change in a very piecemeal way across several subjects, leaving students to make the necessary connections needed to understand the issue.  Within this website are Presentations (Google slides or Powerpoint) that attempt to explain Global Warming and Climate Change in a more "joined up" way, as well as considering how we can start to tackle Climate Change. They have been designed to be presented as a cross-curricular summary wherever a suitable time-slot of a week or so can be engineered. To facilitate this, they can be downloaded and edited for classroom use. There are quizzes, a printable Climate Guide, web links, teaching resources and other materials which will doubtless be added to, hopefully with the help of other people’s contributions, too. 

The 'Links' page contains essential sources of information on climate change, such as the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) and UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), and also links to sources of Educational material about climate change. News articles about this topic appear with increasing frequency, for example, on the BBC News or Sky News websites; it is also worth keeping an eye out on independent news media like Carbon Brief or The Conversation

The following short video, Climate Change: The Causes from Teachers' TV (2007); is now rather outdated, but it still gives a clear picture of the causes and mechanisms of climate change in simple terms. The Climate Guide in this website gives more detail. 


About the author: I have spent many years as a Secondary science teacher, specialising in Physics and Earth Science. Recently I, like many others, have become concerned about the unfolding damage to our planet caused by human activity and our collective failure to address it. Whilst this failure may be wilful on the part of some vested interests, I think it is mostly down to lack of understanding, as suggested above.

This is one small attempt to tackle a perceived lack of “joined-up” education about our climate. I hope it may achieve something useful, and welcome feedback.


(Boring bit for teachers)

Climate Change in the National Curriculum (England) and GCSE specifications

Originally devised in 1987, the National Curriculm was never written with the (then distant) threat of Climate Change in mind. Revisions of the original unwieldy model have mostly been concerned with content reduction. Inevitably, the science of climate change is, at best, covered in a piecemeal way between the three disciplines of biology, chemistry and physics. The boxes below contain all relevant statements at KS3 & 4 that I could find listed in the document linked below (May, 2015). See: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-science-programmes-of-study/national-curriculum-in-england-science-programmes-of-study

Key Stage 3: Biology – Materials Cycles & Energy

·     Photosynthesis: reactants & products, word summary for photosynthesis

·    dependence of almost all life on Earth on the ability of photosynthetic organisms... to use sunlight to build organic molecules... and to maintain levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

·    Cellular Respiration: aerobic & anaerobic respiration in living organisms, including the breakdown of organic molecules to enable all the other chemical processes necessary for life. 

·    Word summaries for aerobic & anaerobic respiration. (etc. etc.) 

                        – Interactions and Interdependencies

·     Relationships in Ecosystems: interdependence of organisms in ecosystems (food webs, pollination &c)

Key Stage 3: Chemistry - Earth and atmosphere

·     the composition of the Earth 

·     the structure of the Earth 

·     the rock cycle and the formation of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks

·     Earth as a source of limited resources and the efficacy of recycling

·     the composition of the atmosphere

·     the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the impact on climate

Key Stage 3: Physics –

·     Energy: comparing amounts of energy transferred

·                    fuels & energy resources (very non-specific)

·     Energy Transfers: Heating & thermal equilibrium... heat transfer through conduction & radiation (but NOT convection!)

·     Energy in Matter: Changes with temperature in motion & spacing of particles (nearly convection!?) !) 

·     Space Physics: The seasons and the Earth’s tilt, day length at different times of year in different hemispheres


Key Stage 4: Biology – Cell Biology

·     importance of cellular respiration, aerobic & anaerobic (as KS3) 

·     Photosynthesis as a key process for food production

·     Ecosystems: the role of micro-organisms in cycling materials through an ecoststem


Key Stage 4: Chemistry – Earth and atmospheric science

·     evidence for composition and evolution of the Earth’s atmosphere since its formation

·     evidence, and uncertainties in evidence, for additional anthropogenic causes of climate change*

·     potential effects of, and mitigation of, increased levels of carbon dioxide and methane on Earth’s climate

·     common atmospheric pollutants: sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, particulates and their sources

·     the Earth’s water resources and obtaining potable water 


Key Stage 4: Physics – Energy

·     conservation of energy in a closed system

·     calculating energy efficiency for any energy transfers

·     renewable and non-renewable energy sources used on Earth; changes in how these are used.

                       Physics – The Structure of Matter

·     relating models of arrangements & motions of molecules in solids, liquids & gases to their densities

·     melting, evaporation & sublimation as reversible changes

·     calculating energy changes involved on heating - [including Specific Heat Capacity & Specific Latent Heat]


Whilst all the statements above have a  role, the ones that are italicised in red have direct relevance to understanding climate change and how it may be tackled. The coverage of curriculum issues relating to climate science is, at best, patchy. A few statements that one might surely expect to find in any science curriculum, like the transfer of thermal energy by convection (essential to understanding atmospheric and ocean heat transfer), or the nature and importance of the carbon cycle, appear to be missing altogether - although I’m sure they are covered somewhere in most schools! Amongst the red italicised statements, one phrase, referring to the “uncertainties in evidence for anthropogenic causes of climate change” stands out. Perhaps a sign of how long ago it was written, as the science is now pretty universally accepted due to sheer weight of evidence.

The various Science Specifications at GCSE appear rather variable in terms of the emphasis placed on climate-related topics. I have not done an exhaustive search, nor checked every Past Paper for relevant question content, but I can make some general observations:

As things currently stand, the only other subject mandated to teach about Climate Change (in England & Wales, at least) is Geography; even here, the topic seems to have been recently subsumed within the theme of "Interdependence". A quick look suggests that all Specifications include desciptions of the mechanism of atmospheric circulation and climate zones, and descibe evidence for climate change over recent geological history (glacial & interglacial episodes); explanation of the anthropogenic aspects of climate change are, however, very much left to the Science curricula. This makes for a noticeable subject disconnect; another problem is that only 40% of school students take Geography to GCSE, although all must take Science. Nationally, only a small number of students may study Climate change in more depth as part of a long-established Geology GCSE or within the recently-announced Natural History GCSE.

The following quote, from an Education Minister in a 2022 parliamentary debate (referring to a Bill that would have amended the curriculum to increase teaching about climate change) summarises the current situation: I leave others to judge whether the right course is being followed:

"While the Government agree with the sentiment of the Bill ... they do not believe that amending the curriculum is the right way to encourage pupils to learn about a sustainable environment. The subjects of citizenship*, science and geography all include content on sustainability and the environment, and schools have the autonomy to go into as much depth on these subjects as they see fit. [*Note: The N.C. for Citizenship makes no reference to Climate Change ].

We are taking action to support schools to develop further pupil knowledge and skills in relation to these very important issues. Our draft sustainability and climate change strategy, which we announced at COP 26, set out two new initiatives: the national education nature park and the climate leaders award. Together, these schemes will build on knowledge gained in the classroom to provide opportunities for all pupils to learn more about nature and biodiversity, develop key digital skills that are essential components to solving climate change and be empowered to take positive action".

On the positive side of the Minister's statement, the words "schools have the autonomy to go into as much depth on these subjects as they see fit" surely might be taken as encouragement to Science teachers to ensure that we do try to play our part fully where Climate & Sustainability Education are concerned?