November 2015


Students will:

  • Examine the need for, and challenges associated with, creating an international agreement on climate change.
  • Assess the importance of the climate change conference (COP 21) in Paris.
  • Monitor the coverage of COP 21 and climate change in the news.
  • Analyze how the outcomes of COP 21 and responses to the conference relate to the key issues at stake.


The Guardian—Everything you need to know about the Paris climate summit and UN talks

Handout—Identifying Key Issues

Handout—Monitoring the Situation

In the Classroom

1. Introducing the Global Crisis
Show the video Why does climate change matter? and ask students to recall some of the effects the scholars mention, noting responses on the board. Show the video What is the current state of international climate negotiations?, and ask students to recall why Roberts says an international agreement on climate change is needed. What does he say are some of the challenges to reaching an agreement? Invite students to share how they think these challenges connect to the effects of climate change noted on the board. For instance, if a country is not experiencing many of the effects, how might they approach an agreement compared to a country that faces a lot of the effects?

2. Assessing the Issues
Explain to students that there are yearly international conferences on climate change called “Conferences of the Parties” or COPs, which are mandated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is at these Conferences that countries negotiate about how to deal with climate change. In 2015, the COP (COP 21) is being held in Paris, from November 30 to December 11. The central goal for the Conference is to make a comprehensive and legally binding international agreement on climate change. Tell students that they are going to identify the key issues at stake to better follow the Conference in the news. Distribute the Identifying Key Issues handout and the article from the Guardian. Students should work in pairs to complete the handout, using what they have learned from the article and the videos. You may wish to discuss the issues as a class, inviting students to share their answers and allowing pairs to amend their identified issues before moving on.

3. Monitoring the News
Tell students that they will be following events surrounding the Paris talks in the news. DistributeMonitoring the Situation, and direct students to read the instructions on the first page. They should copy the key issues they identified into the space provided. Ask students to suggest some places that they might go to look for news on climate change and the Conference, developing a list for the class. You should prompt students to consider the reliability of sources, particularly those on social media. To complement the class-made list, refer students to the list of news sources below. Every week for one month, students should consult at least two or three news sources and write a short update about the situation on Part I of the handout. At the end of the month, students should answer the questions listed in Part II. [Note: COP 21 runs for two weeks. The remaining weeks should be dedicated to monitoring how the world responds to outcomes from the Conference and any other news on climate change.]

4. Discussing the Outcomes
After a month, bring the class together to discuss. How did the actual events of the Conference end up mapping onto the key issues the class identified? Were there any issues that students identified that did not end up being important? Were there any unexpected issues that came to the fore? What was the outcome of the Conference? How did different countries, organizations, and journalists respond? How did students find this information? How did they determine if the source was reliable? Is there anything students didn’t learn about climate change, the COPs, or international negotiations that they wish they had? What are some of the ways they think they could learn about these things?

Extra Challenges

You may choose to show students the video:

Letter Writing & Leadership Challenge: Encourage students to write letters to elected officials or organizations detailing their opinions on climate change. They can find contact information for the White House at and for their U.S. senators and representatives at The “Open Letter to World Leaders” video may give students inspiration.

Creative Media Challenge: Ask students to make a visual representation to communicate the importance of COP 21. Students may wish to collaborate in designing a poster to share with the class and on campus or to create their own hashtag slogan to raise awareness about the importance of the upcoming COP though social media.

Impact Analysis: Invite students to write an essay analyzing how an individual or group action influenced the conference. Students should choose one of the news articles they read that provides an example of an individual or organization working to create change. Their essay should explain the successful strategies the individual or organization used to raise awareness and increase participation. It should also include one suggestion for what could have been improved.

News Sources for Monitoring

UN Climate Change Newsroom

New York Times page on COP 21

The Guardian page on COP 21

Al Jazeera page on climate change

PBS page on climate change

The Economist page on climate change

Climate Development Lab (The CDL will be attending COP 21)

Supplementary Resources

UNFCCC Official Site

Government of France—Website for COP 21

Carbon Brief—Paris 2015: Tracking country climate pledges

The Climate Reality Project—Key Terms You Need to Know to Understand Climate Change

National Geographic—November edition devoted to climate change

Choices videos on climate change

While this online lesson can stand on its own, it focusses solely on the November 2015 climate change talks in Paris. It is best used as a supplement to the full-length Choices curriculum, Climate Change and Questions of Justice. The full-length unit includes a more comprehensive study of climate change, its effects on the world, and how governments, organizations, and communities are responding. Climate Change and Questions of Justice is recommended by the National Science Teachers Association.

Photo: richardghawley. CC BY-ND 2.0

Back to top