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Climate Change – Mitigation and Adaptation: Who is to blame?

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35 minutes

Learning objectives

  • To appreciate and understand that different ways of looking at the same set of statistics can provide different answers and inform different points of view
  • To give an informed opinion regarding the extent to who (or who isn’t) responsible for carbon emissions that lead to climate change

Resources needed

Methodology and teacher’s notes

  1. Show the first 2:05 of Kurzgesagt’s ‘Who Is Reponsible For Climate Change?’ YouTube Video (stop at the flags). This helps to review the situation so far, including the troubles with COP meetings like Paris.

The students will look into these questions posed by the video:
Q1. Which countries emit the most carbon dioxide today?
Q2. Which countries emitted the most in total?
Q3. Which countries emit the most CO2 per person?

  1. Organise students into pairs on small groups and give each a pack of the carbon emissions ‘top-trump’ cards. If you wish, you can allow some amount of time for them to simply play top trumps, which is a good way to familiarise themselves with the information on the cards. Ensure students are aware that Germany, France, Italy and the UK are included in the EU-28 statistics (you could choose to omit the EU-28 card, or the four European countries – watching the Kurzgesagt video ahead of time will help to inform your choice).

The data is taken from Our World In Data’sCO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions’ page.

Per Capita: Carbon emissions (in tonnes) divided by the population, in 2018.

Annual: Total carbon emissions (in tonnes) for 2018.
Cumulative: Total historical amount of carbon emissions (in tonnes) emitted between 1751 and 2018.
Trade: The percentage adjustment of country’s 2017 CO2 emissions due to trade. For example, China exports more than it imports, so if those exports count as emissions not from China, but who they sell to, then their actual ‘domestic’ emissions would be 13.11% lower. See here for a full explanation.
Total emissions: Includes all greenhouse gases, not just CO2 and also accounts for trade, land-use changes and forestry efforts (in 2016). This is measured in tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) and may be lower than the figure just for CO2 if efforts have been made to, for example, reforest areas.

  1. Using the top-trump cards, students rank them in order of each variable. A quick way to do this is to assign one variable to each pair/group and feedback as a class (or ‘snowball’ with other groups) rather than have all pairs/groups do each variable in turn. Due to its complexity, you may wish to leave ‘Trade’, or assign it to a pair/group you wish to challenge. Answers (highest to lowest) are below.

 

Per Capita Annual Cumulative Trade Total emissions
MOST EMISSIONS

Qatar

Trinidad & Tobago

Kuwait

UAE

Bahrain

Brunei

Saudi Arabia

Australia

USA

Canada

South Korea

Russia

Japan

Germany

Iran

South Africa

China

EU-28

Spain

UK

Italy

France

Argentina

Mexico

Tunisia

Egypt

Indonesia

Brazil

Vietnam

India

Nigeria

Malawi

LEAST EMISSIONS

MOST EMISSIONS

China

USA

EU-28

India

Russia

Japan

Germany

Iran

South Korea

Saudi Arabia

Indonesia

Canada

Mexico

South Africa

Brazil

Australia

UK

Italy

France

Spain

Egypt

Vietnam

UAE

Argentina

Nigeria

Qatar

Kuwait

Trinidad & Tobago

Tunisia

Bahrain

Brunei

Malawi

LEAST EMISSIONS

MOST EMISSIONS

USA

EU-28

China

Russia

Germany

UK

Japan

India

France

Canada

Italy

South Africa

Mexico

Australia

Iran

South Korea

Brazil

Saudi Arabia

Spain

Indonesia

Argentina

Egypt

UAE

Nigeria

Vietnam

Kuwait

Qatar

Trinidad & Tobago

Bahrain

Tunisia

Brunei

Malawi

LEAST EMISSIONS

HIGHEST IMPORTS

Malawi

UK

Italy

France

UAE

Japan

Germany

Brazil

Spain

USA

Vietnam

Brunei

Mexico

South Korea

Canada

Indonesia

Argentina

NEAR NET ZERO

Saudi Arabia

Egypt

Tunisia

India

Australia

Iran

Kuwait

China

Trinidad & Tobago

Russia

Nigeria

Qatar

South Africa

Bahrain

HIGHEST EXPORTS

MOST EMISSIONS

China

USA

India

EU-28

Russia

Indonesia

Brazil

Iran

Japan

Germany

Canada

Mexico

Saudi Arabia

South Korea

Australia

South Africa

Argentina

Nigeria

UK

Italy

France

Vietnam

Egypt

Spain

UAE

Kuwait

Qatar

Bahrain

Tunisia

Trinidad & Tobago

Brunei

Malawi

LEAST EMISSIONS

 

  1. Return to the Kurzgesagt Video, playing from where you stopped before. It will take students through a visual representation and commentary of the task they have just completed with the top trump cards. (Q1/3 = “Annual”, Q2/3 = “Cumulative”, Q3/3 = “Per Capita”). This time stop at 7:44 (Q4/3!) to set up the writing task (#8).
  2. Writing task – hand out the ‘Who is to blame for climate change?’ Worksheet to each student. However, before students start, watch the remainder of the Kurzgesagt Video, which gives one point of view (hence where the statement comes from, plus it gives some modelling regarding examples and evidence). Now set the students off on the writing task.
  3. Ask some volunteers to read out their responses, encouraging those with opposing or differing views to read theirs.
  4. Finish off with Climate Adam’s ‘Which country is to blame for climate change’ YouTube Video. It is both acts as a summary and good comic relief!

Further challenge and extension

The top-trump cards only look at a sample of countries across the world. Students could explore the maps, charts and information on the ‘Our World In Data’ webpage themselves. In particular, they could compare the maps with those which show where impacts of climate change could be greatest. If your students did Activity 6 of the climate change ‘Causes and Effects’, which included completing the annotated world map of impacts, this could be used. Otherwise, websites such as this can be useful.

References, sources and credits:

Who Is Responsible For Climate Change? – Who Needs To Fix It? (Kurzgesagt, 21 June 2020)

CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Our World In Data), accessed 9 May 2024

Which country is to blame for climate change? (Climate Adam, 6 April 2020)

View the other lessons in this series:

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