Session 1: Introduction to Climate Change

This introductory session provides teachers with background information on the course. It covers the relevance of the course to the CAPS curriculum, key concepts of climate change and issues related to the teaching of climate change.


By the end of the session participants should be able to:

  • Strengthen your subject content knowledge of climate change.
  • Engage more deeply with current climate change issues.
  • Encourage collective responses to local challenges.
  • Enhance your teaching approach/strategies; and
  • Support your assessment practice.

Rationale and links to CAPS

In this section, we share information on the significance of this course to the CAPS curriculum:
This course has been developed to support FET phase Geography teachers to meet the requirements for CAPS teaching about climate change. The unit covers core content knowledge taught in Grades 10-12 with a particular focus on those sections dealing with climatology.
The focus of this course is on the Grade 10 curriculum, with a forward-looking approach to Grades 11 and 12. The broader aims of Geography (as described in CAPS) are used as the central themes in this course.

Table 1: Related topics within the CAPS geography curriculum, showing relevant grades and terms

How is energy supplied and added to the system? 10 1
How is energy transformed through various processes? (e.g. moisture in the atmosphere) 10 1
How is energy transferred across the system? (e.g. Earth’s energy balance and the global air




Energy transfer (e.g. pressure belts, cold and warm fronts, high and low pressures) 12 1

When teaching climate change what should we focus on?

Focus areas when teaching climate change

  • Mind (Knowledge)
  • Hands (Action)
  • Heart: (Connection & values)
  • Open-up spaces to question the status quo (knowledge, actions, values)
  • Encourage real transformation in terms of new values, perspectives, practices
  • “Support learners to become informed, active agents of positive change in the world”

“We are hoping to grow learners who are flexible, nimble & smart thinkers & decision makers – learners who are able to make complex decisions in what has always been an uncertain science.”

As we develop engaged and active citizens we need to empower them to engage in actions that:

  • Mitigate climate change (e.g. reduce actions that release CO2 into the atmosphere
  • Adapt to CC (reduce the social & ecological risks and learn how to live with CC)
  • Build resilience (make ecosystems and people stronger in the face of CC)

One of the significant issues to be addressed by the teacher when teaching climate change is the psychological distance.

Source: Trope (2010)

How to address Psychological distance and make climate change less abstract and closer to the self?

Watch the YouTube video below to get the message that teachers can pass to learners to address Psychological distance  

Some key concepts in climate change

We usually refer to climate as the average of daily weather over about 30-50 years (Richardson et al., 2011). This includes fluctuations in, amongst other variables, daily temperature, rainfall and air pressure. To observe a change in climate requires several years of data observation, e.g. changes in rainfall over the last 30 years.

Climate change refers to long-term changes in climate. Climate change usually also refers to significant changes in long-term weather patterns in a specific region or across the whole Earth. Examples would be rising sea levels or the increase in the global average temperature.

Climate variability refers to shorter-term changes in the climate compared with what is considered ‘normal’. Various atmospheric factors can influence climate in the short term.

The ability to adapt or change in response to changing climate.

Efforts to reduce, limit and respond to the causes of greenhouse gases and other factors ‘driving’ climate change.

Gases in the atmosphere absorb, reflect and re-radiate energy in the climate system.

The greenhouse effect is a natural process that has operated over several thousands of years. Humans are adding to or ‘enhancing’ this process, so it is important to try to distinguish between the way in which humans contribute to the greenhouse effect compared to the Earth’s natural processes.

These are the factors that change the energy balance of the Earth System, causing climate change and climate variability. They include both human and natural effects on the climate and are also known as ‘forcing’ factors (e.g. solar forcing).

Anthropogenic means ‘caused by humans’; anthropogenic drivers are the human activities that are increasing climate change, e.g. land-use changes that influence the reflectivity (or albedo) of the Earth, and the addition of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

This describes how ‘weak’ or strong a community or ecosystem is to stress or shock caused by climate change and its impacts on the Earth System (e.g. floods or droughts).

This describes how easily a community and/or ecosystem can ‘bounce back’ or adapt to stresses and shocks caused by climate change. Part of this is understanding what makes them stronger or more adaptable than other communities in similar situations.

Given that we know that climate change is real, there is a need to mitigate, adapt and build resilience, why do so many teachers (still) find it difficult to engage with the topic?

Here are some readings that you might find interesting.

  • Trope Y, Liberman N. Construal-level theory of psychological distance. Psychol Rev. 2010 Apr;117(2):440-63. doi: 10.1037/a0018963. Erratum in: Psychol Rev. 2010 Jul;117(3):1024. PMID: 20438233; PMCID: PMC3152826.
  • Cyclone Freddy. (2023, April 14). In Wikipedia.
  • Principles of CAPS curriculum

Watch the following video about the Tropical cyclone warning for Lowveld communities in Mpumalanga and Limpopo: Puseletso Mofokeng