Module 1: Introduction to climate change Copy


Welcome to module 1! We have all heard about this thing called “climate change”. But of course, we are not all climate scientists. This lesson will help you increase your understanding of the climate crisis and will help you mobilise positive action.

Learning Objectives 

In this module, you will:

  • Learn basic facts about climate change from the global to the local level.
  • Learn what climate change means for humanitarians.
  • Learn tools to communicate about climate change with other people.

Key video lecture 1a – Climate science

This video lecture provides a comprehensive introduction to climate change and addresses the following questions:

  1. How do we know the climate is changing?
  2. How is the climate changing?
  3. Why is the climate changing?
  4. How do we know that humans are involved in climate change?
  5. What does climate change mean for humanitarians?

This video lecture features Roop Singh from the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.

Key video lecture 1b – Climate scenarios

This video lecture provides an introduction to climate scenarios and addresses the following questions:

  1. What are climate scenarios?
  2. Why do climate scenarios matter?
  3. How can we use localised climate scenarios?

This video lecture features Reinhard Mechler from the International Institute for Applied System Analysis.

Key resources:

1. World Disasters Report

The impacts of climate change are already devastating lives and livelihoods every year, and they will only get worse without immediate and determined action. The IFRC’s World Disasters Report 2020 analyses climate disaster trends and shows how we can tackle the humanitarian impacts of the climate crisis together.

2. The Cost of Doing Nothing

The IFRC’s The Cost of Doing Nothing presents an analysis showing that if no urgent action is taken now, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance annually due to the climate crisis could double by 2050. In contrast, the report also shows that by investing in climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction, the world can avoid a future marked by escalating suffering and ballooning response costs.

3. Climate Training Kit

This kit is designed to provide innovative tools to trainers and facilitators within the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement and its partners. You can find annotated presentations, games, exercises and more. It is a great follow up resource from this e-learning course and will allow you to easily communicate about climate change to others, without needing to be a climate expert.

4. Video (3 minutes)

Without climate action, this could be our world in 2050 (!)

Recommended exercises

1. Climate science quiz

A simple and fun quiz to test a group’s current climate change knowledge.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is climate change the same as global warming?

No. “Global warming” refers to an increase in the average temperature near the Earth’s surface. “Climate change” refers to the broader set of changes that go along with global warming, including changes in weather patterns, the oceans, ice and snow, and ecosystems. Most experts now use the term “climate change” because it gives a more complete picture of the changes that are happening around the world.

2. Why is climate change happening?

The main reason the climate is changing is because people are adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The most important greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, which is released whenever people burn fossil fuels to do everyday activities like driving cars, heating buildings, and making electricity. As greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere, they cause the Earth to trap extra heat, making the planet warmer.

3. Is it possible to attribute a single weather event to climate change?

Climate change is never the sole cause of an extreme-weather event, but it can sometimes be a significant contributing factor. The ability of science to tell how much more likely a particular event may have been due to climate change has rapidly advanced in the past decade. For instance, the extreme rainfall that led to devastating floods in northern Europe in July 2021 were 1.2 to 9 times more likely to happen due to climate change (see summary and link to report here), and the record-breaking heatwave in parts of Canada and the US in 2021 would have been virtually impossible without the influence of human-caused climate change. Scientists have higher confidence in attributing events such as extreme cold, heat, and rain/snowfall to climate change, while events such as thunderstorms, cyclones and wildfires are more difficult to attribute.

4. Is the increase in disasters due to climate change?

Climate is far from the only factor: population is increasing in cities, more and more people are concentrated on vulnerable coastlines, and we have built homes and other infrastructure that is exposed to the path of storms. These vulnerability and exposure factors are in part driving the increasing damages we observe from disasters. At the same time climate change is leading to an increase in the frequency and/or intensity of hazards such as heatwaves, floods, droughts, and storms, amplifying the risks faced by vulnerable and exposed people. So the increasing disaster impacts are caused by the combined effects of  vulnerability, exposure and changing climate risks. It is highly likely that these trends will continue.

5. Is it certain that human activities have caused the observed and projected changes in climate?

Yes! The 2021 ‘Assessment Report’ from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where more than 200 scientists from 66 countries have worked together to assess all available knowledge on climate change conclude that “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.” See here Seven key humanitarian insights from the latest IPCC report.

6. Why does global warming need to be limited to 1.5°C or 2°C?

The world has already warmed about 1°C above pre-industrial levels, and 2°C or 1.5°C, have long been used as long-term temperature ‘goalposts’ for climate change mitigation. A warming of 1.5°C is not safe for most countries; it presents serious risks to human and natural systems, with a high probability of irreversible changes – and at 2°C it will get even worse (see IFRC summary and link here and short graphics on this WWF site). For instance, in the tropics, loss of maize crop yields will likely double between 1.5°C and 2C°C and heatwaves increase from 2 to 3 months. We need to act now to avoid serious consequences.

7. What is the impact of climate change and extreme weather events on humanitarian assistance?
  1. As summarized in the 2021 ‘World Disaster Report’:
  • During the past ten years, 83% of all disasters triggered by natural hazards were caused by extreme weather- and climate-related events, such as floods, storms and heatwaves.
  • The number of climate- and weather-related disasters has been increasing since the 1960s, and has risen almost 35% since the 1990s.
  • The proportion of all disasters attributable to climate and extreme weather events has also increased significantly during this time, from 76% of all disasters during the 2000s to 83% in the 2010s.
  • These extreme weather- and climate-related disasters have killed more than 410,000 people in the past ten years, the vast majority in low and lower middle-income countries. Heatwaves, then storms, have been the biggest killers.
  • A further 1.7 billion people around the world have been affected by climate and weather-related disasters during the past decade.

Finally, the IFRC 2019 report ‘The cost of doing nothing’ estimates that the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance could double (from 108 to around 200 million people) between 2018 to 2050 due to climate-related disasters and the socioeconomic impact of climate change.

8. Can we prevent or reduce climate related hazards?

People cannot directly prevent extreme weather events such as heatwaves, heavy rainfall and drought. However, we – as individuals and as Red Cross Red Crescent Movement actors – can help limit the impact by preparing for more extreme events, and we can all contribute to stop further warming and thereby prevent global warming from exceeding the 1.5°C or 2°C thresholds.

Quiz (note: did not put this in the actual Quiz format)

  1. Why is the planet warming up?
    1. The sun is getting closer & hotter as part of a natural sun cycle
    2. Heat-trapping gases are building up in the atmosphere, preventing warmth from the sun escaping back out into space
    3. Scientists do not know why the earth is warming up, they just observe that it is
    4. The body heat from more and more people warms the air around us
  1. Approximately in what year is it likely that global warming will pass the 1.5°C threshold (as of 2021)?
    1. 2100
    2. 2060
    3. 2040
    4. 2025
  1. Can scientists tell if an extreme weather event is caused by climate change?
    1. No, extremes can always happen and there is no way to identify if climate change played a role
    2. Yes, all extreme weather events are caused by climate change
    3. Yes, in many cases it is possible to estimate how likely a particular extreme event is to occur and if it was made more likely (and how much) due to climate change. We call this the science of “attribution” 
    4. Extreme weather events are not influenced by climate change
  1. Which type of natural hazard is NOT influenced by climate change?
    1. Earthquake
    2. Flood
    3. Heatwave
    4. Drought
  1. The increase in the number and severity of weather related disaster events is caused by
    1. Climate change only
    2. Mainly environmental degradation such as deforestation
    3. Mainly due to increased urbanisation
    4. A combination of vulnerability and exposure factors and changing climate-related risks