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Climate Change Curriculum Units -  (P - Y10)


Educating for Sustainability Through the ACT Curriculum contains units of work (P-10) in water, waste, biodiversity, energy and climate change. The units were developed by teachers, curriculum consults and experts in each of the focus areas.

Schools can adapt the units to their own school curriculum organisers, formats and class groupings.


Climate Change Curriculum Units -  (P - Y10)


What is the Greenhouse Effect?

Greenhouse Effect and Enhanced Greenhouse Effect

The greenhouse effect is a natural process in which the absorption of infra red radiation by an atmosphere warms a planet. Without human influence, transfers between these stores roughly balance each other – for example, plants absorb carbon as they grow, but release it as they decay.

But when humans cut down trees or burn fossil fuels, they release extra carbon into the atmosphere, increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This has been significantly accelerated by the emission of greenhouse gases primarily caused by the use of fossil-based fuels. This increase in greenhouse gases means that they are absorbing more heat and warming up the planet. This increase in greenhouse gases is called the enhanced greenhouse effect and is responsible for our changing climate.

Measuring climate change

Weather stations, balloons, ocean buoys, and satellites provide information about the Earth’s temperature today. Ice cores, sediment layers, and tree rings advise us about the history of the Earth’s climate. With this evidence, scientists are learning how climate changes over time.


Across the world, Governments (national, state and local) and business are monitoring their greenhouse gas emissions through inventories.
Australia’s greenhouse gas inventories record greenhouse emissions produced (or absorbed) from a number of actions including the use of energy (electricity, petrol etc), and produced by industrial processes, agricultural practices, waste and land use changes (such a forestry or land clearing). Inventories for each State and Territory are also produced. Inventories and reporting on greenhouse emissions are making companies and governments more accountable for their emissions. 


How will the climate change?


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been established, by World Meteorological Organisation and United Nations Environment Program, to assess scientific, technical and socio- economic information relevant for the understanding of climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.

The IPCC 4th Assessment Report identified the following key global climate change predictions:

  • A probable temperature rise of between 1.8C and 4C;
  • A possible temperature rise of between 1.1C and 6.4C;
  • Sea level is most likely to rise by 28-43cm;
  • Arctic summer sea ice is likely to disappear in second half of century;
  • An increase in heatwaves is very likely; and
  • An increase in tropical storm intensity is likely.

It is difficult to provide generalisations of climate change impacts as each country and region will be affected differently. For example some regions will receive more rainfall and others less.


It is hard to generalise about climate changes in Australia, as different regions will have different impacts. The complexity and interactions of the global climate system make it difficult to provide very specific predictions. There is often a wide band of error. However, the CSIRO has provided some predictions.

  • Temperature – there is predicted to be a general warming over most of Australia, with slightly less warming in some coastal areas and Tasmania. There will be slightly more warming in the north-west.
  • Rainfall – changes tend towards decreases in the southwest and in parts of the south-east and Queensland. Some inland areas may become wetter in summer and others in autumn. Further frequent heavy rainfall events and flooding may occur more often.

 The ACT is expected to experience the following climatic changes:

  • Higher temperatures;
  • Increased winds in summer months;
  • Drier average seasonal conditions;
  • Increased frequency of extreme weather events including storms;
  • Increased risk of bushfire.


What are the Consequences of Climate Change?

It is important to understand that scientists don't know for sure what climate change will bring. However it will result in social, environmental and economic changes on an international, national and local level.

Human Health

Climate change may affect people's health both directly and indirectly.
Direct impacts include heat stress and other heat related health problems are caused directly by very warm temperatures and high humidity or increased respiratory problems due to air pollution.

Indirectly ecological disturbances are likely to have a greater impact. For example, changes in food and water supplies, or some vector borne diseases such as malaria and coastal flooding are all examples of changes with possible impacts that might affect human health.

Generally, poor people and poor countries are less likely to have the money and resources they need to cope with preventing and treating health problems. Very young children and the elderly will run the highest risks.


As with economic impact, social impacts are indirect effects from climate change. However they are likely to have significant influence. Impact to society include:

  • damage to buildings from ground shrinkage, and potential increased storms, cyclone intensity and flooding.
  • vulnerability of coastal communities
  • refugees due to drought, flooding or sea level rise
  • reduced water availability, increased pressure on government and private insurance systems and disaster relief
  • change in food availability in drought and flood prone areas leading to increased food prices.
  • reduced energy supply reliability and increased energy prices.
  • reduced recreational opportunities provided by the natural environment (eg less snowfields, changes in management of recreational/national parks).

Ecological Systems/Biodiversity

Climate change may alter the world's habitats and ecosystems – all living things are included in and rely on these places. Many of these places depend on a delicate balance of rainfall, temperature, and soil type. A rapid change in climate could upset this balance and seriously endanger many living things.

Climate change and the subsequent change in rainfall patterns, drought and fire regimes, is predicted to:

  • cause mass species extinction
  • affect species distribution. Some species will be able to adapt to climate change and increase their current distribution but others will decline and may eventually become extinct eg. many subalpine and fire sensitive species.
  • provide the potential for pest plants and animals to become established under new conditions.

Economic impacts

The Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change was formed to undertake research to advance the understanding of business risks and opportunities associated with climate change. They found the economic impacts are potentially significant and widespread. In particular:

  • The tourism industry is highly climate dependent. For example, 97% of the Great Barrier Reef could be bleached with a 2-3°C increase in temperature. Tourism to the Reef is a $1.5billion industry.
  • The livestock industry will face more heat stress, pests and disease in animals.
  • A 2°C increase would reduce water flows to the Murray Darling Basin and Melbourne by about 15%. This would have significant effects on irrigation of crops.

The ACT business community is likely to be affected by climate change through:

  • the regulatory requirements of emissions reporting,
  • increasing premiums resulting from international insurance companies (re-insurers) spreading the cost of global events,
  • changes in raw material availability and increased energy costs.

Many ACT businesses operating in tourism and specialty agriculture (wineries, olives) will be affected by changed weather and rainfall patterns.


What can be done?

Addressing climate change currently has two approaches:


Abatement or mitigation is any action to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities. This include global actions such as the Kyoto Protocol or emissions trading to every day actions such as using public transport and being smarter in our use of energy and water in our homes and offices.


Adaptation is any action to respond to the anticipated or actual conditions related to climate change. We have produced so many greenhouse gases already that there will be changes to the climate even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases right now. Adaptation strategies can reduce the vulnerability of a community to the effects of climate change. They change the way that humans interact with their local environment in response to tangible changes such as more/less rain or increase in bushfires.

They include action such as developing a strong renewable energy industry, planning for water supply to help avoid crises and undertaking research to develop a full understanding of the changes that may be faced and how it will impact on our society.


What can I do?

We can all make a difference by taking simple steps like …

  • Replacing a regular light bulb with an energy saving light bulb and switching to green power.
  • Moving your thermostat down 2° in winter and up 2° in summer.
  • Avoid using air conditioners and where cooling is required, use a fan or evaporative air conditioners.
  • Choosing energy efficient appliances when making new purchases.
  • Using less hot water – shorter showers will help.
  • Using a clothesline instead of a dryer, whenever possible.
  • Turning off electronic devices at the switch and avoiding standby mode.
  • Only running your dishwasher, washing machine and dryer when you have a full load, and using the energy-saving setting.
  • Insulating your home.
  • Recycling at home and at work.
  • Getting a home energy audit through the HEAT Energy Audit and Rebate program.
  • Installing a water efficient showerhead.
  • Buying locally grown and produced foods and avoiding heavily packaged products.
  • Reducing the number of kilometres you drive by walking, cycling, carpooling or taking an ACTION bus, whenever possible.
  • Keeping your car tuned and checking your tyres weekly to make sure they are properly inflated.
  • Choosing a more fuel efficient vehicle, when it’s time for a new car.


Frequently Asked Questions

What are greenhouse gases?

Greenhouse gases are gases that can absorb the thermal energy emitted by the earth, creating the greenhouse effect, which warms the earth. There are approximately 30 gases that qualify as climate-changing greenhouse gases, these gases have been chosen due to their Global Warming Potential (GWP) and the quantity in which they are released. GWP is the concentration of the gas and is measured compared to carbon dioxide, for example, methane has 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

The six greenhouse gases specified in the Kyoto Protocol are:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) - The main causes of this increase are the burning of fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas) to create electricity and to produce fuel for transport.
  • Methane (CH4) - The main causes of this increase come from the digestive processes of livestock, the cultivation of rice, escaping natural gas and decomposing waste in garbage dumps or landfills.
  • Nitrous oxide (N20) - The main causes of this increase come from the burning of vegetation and industry emissions.
  • Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) & Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) – are also on the list. They are created by processes such as aerosol use, air conditioners, production of aluminium and magnesium and use in semi conductor manufacture.

Has climate changed in the past 100 years?

The average surface temperature of the world is now 0.4 to 0.8°C higher than it was late in the 19th century. Most of the warming occurred over two periods in the 20th century: from 1910 to 1945 and from 1976 to 2002. This coincide with increased industrial and technological development in the world.

What is carbon neutral?

Being carbon neutral means that you produce no net emissions of carbon dioxide. This can be achieved in a number of ways. Firstly by not producing emissions, for example using energy only from renewable sources does not generate greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, by offsetting any emissions that are produced, for example using energy from fossil fuels, generates carbon dioxide emissions, but as long as new trees are planted soak up the carbon, then the level of emissions doesn't change. But a lot of trees need to be planted to offset the electricity we use in our houses, offices and cars!!!

What is the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol is a global agreement made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Countries that have ratified the protocol are committed to reducing their emissions of 6 greenhouse gases. More than 160 countries (not including Australia) have signed the Kyoto Protocol and which means it covers over 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Other protocols, such at the Montreal Protocol also limit or stop the use of greenhouse gases.

What is Emissions Trading?

Under an emissions trading scheme, limits (or caps) are set on the amount of a pollutant (greenhouse gas) that can be emitted. Companies or groups are given credits which represent the right to emit a specific amount. Companies that pollute beyond their allowances must buy credits from those who pollute less than their allowances. The more firms that need to buy credits, the higher the price of credits becomes -- which makes reducing emissions cost-effective in comparison.

What is carbon sequestration or offsets?

Sequestration is capturing and permanently storing carbon dioxide to reduce the amount in the atmosphere. This is done naturally through oceans and growing forests. There are now man made systems of capturing and storing carbon. Carbon can be mixed with metal oxides to form carbonates, these become liquids or solids and can be easily stored. Additionally, carbon can be directed injected into underground geological forms (geosequestration). Ocean storage has also been proposed.


Useful Websites [external link] - Ollies Island and Ollies world – water, waste, sustainability and energy (Australian) [external link] great remote satellite images [external link] - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) website. Assessment reports provide useful global information






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Updated on: 16 July 2012