Climate Change

climate change

Climate change impacts everyone’s lives, and this unit explores the consequences of our failure to make dramatic changes in our society to save the planet. At the end of these activities, you will be able to identify and explain why we should be concerned about climate change and how we can act to make our world a better place.

  • Time

    60-90 minutes

  • Main Skills

    Reading and Listening

  • Theme and topic

    Sharing the Planet - Climate Change

  • Download Available

    Reading Comprehension and Listening Task Script


What causes climate change (also known as global warming)? And what are the effects of climate change? Learn about the human impact of climate change on the environment and our lives.

You hear a group of students talking about their Natural Earth presentation. Listen and match the tasks 1-5 with the person who will do them (a-c).

Read the article about how climate change is affecting Britain. Then answer the questions at the bottom.

Much of the world is in the grip of a heatwave. Britain is so hot and dry that we have Indonesia-style peat fires raging across our moorlands. Montreal posted its highest temperature ever, with the deaths of 33 people in Quebec attributed to the scorching heat. And if you think that’s hot and dangerous, the town of Quriyat in Oman never went below a frightening 42.6C for a full 24 hours in June, almost certainly a global record. While many people love a bit of sun, extreme heat is deadly. But are these sweltering temperatures just a freak event, or part of an ominous trend we need to prepare for?

Earth’s climate system has always produced occasional extreme weather events, both warm and cold. What is different about now is that extra short-term warmth – from the jet stream being further north than usual – is adding to the long-term trend of rising global temperatures. The warming trend is very clear: the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that all 18 years of the 21st century are among the 19 warmest on record, and 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded. Overall global surface air temperatures have risen by 1C since the industrial revolution. It is therefore no surprise that temperature records are being broken. And we can expect this to become a feature of future summers.

The long-term warming trend is driven by the release of greenhouse gases, chiefly carbon dioxide. Many alternative causes have been tested by scientists: the effects of sunspots, volcanic eruptions and other natural events. Only greenhouse gas emissions, dominated by fossil fuel use, explain the warming over the past century. This understanding isn’t just retrospective: 30 years ago this summer, climate scientist James Hansen told a US Senate committee that the climate was changing and fossil fuels were the main culprit. He made headlines worldwide with predictions that if emissions continued our planet would continue to warm, which it inexorably has.

Today’s heatwave is not related, as some have suggested, to the every-few-years shift of Pacific Ocean currents that affects global weather patterns, known as El Niño. A new modest-sized El Niño is predicted for later this year but is not yet detectable. Today’s heatwave is what is expected as Earth moves to an ever warmer state. But it is worth watching the news for the coming El Niño later this year: if it turns out to be a large event, next summer could bring more extremely hot weather. And beyond that, as the climate warms, summer heatwaves will escalate in their severity.

So what is to be done? The amount of warming we see is directly related to the cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide. Stopping warming requires moving to zero emissions of carbon dioxide. Despite the Paris agreement on climate change being designed to do exactly that, progress has been slow. Today 80% of world energy use is from fossil fuels. While the share of renewables is rising rapidly, so is energy use, meaning that globally, carbon emissions are flatlining, not declining. Commitments made so far under the Paris agreement show that we are on track for an additional 2C warming this century. Such large and rapid change will make it very difficult for societies to cope.

We will therefore also need to adapt. There is a lot we can do. At an individual level, we can cool our homes by keeping the curtains and windows shut on the sunny side of our house during the day to slow the rate at which it heats up, and then open windows at night to cool it down. We also need to keep a close eye on the very young and very old because they cannot regulate their temperatures very well and suffer most in the heat. The major 2003 European heatwave killed 70,000 mostly older people. Changes to social care, for example, to attend to the needs of people who are vulnerable to high temperatures, can help avoid such death tolls in the future.

Beyond this, many aspects of society will require deep and difficult changes, including to our own mindsets. In the summers of the future, particularly in the south of England, we will regularly live in Mediterranean-type conditions. Adapting our national infrastructure, particularly around maintaining our water supplies, updating our housing stock as it is built to retain heat, and altering how we manage our land to avoid further catastrophic fires, will all be required. It is under-appreciated that climate change will transform the very fabric of the experience of living in the UK.

This coming new reality is not high on the political agenda. Climate change is a greater threat to the UK than EU directives, terrorism or a foreign power invading. Yet the scope of our political discussion on future threats is limited to Brexit and spending on defence. Instead of this blinkered view where the future is the same as the past, we need to step out of the intense heat and take a cool look at what we are doing to our home planet.

The development of farming and the rise of civilisations occurred within a 10,000-year window of unusually stable environmental conditions. Those stable interglacial conditions are over. Human actions are driving Earth to a hot new super-interglacial state. What scientists call the Anthropocene epoch, this unstable time is a new chapter of history. Today’s heat is a forewarning of far worse to come. To live well in this new world needs political action to catch up with this changing reality. Fast.

This heatwave is just the start. Britain has to adapt to climate change, fast by Simon Lewis


1. List two pieces of evidence from the text of extreme heat.

2. Which word in the first two paragraphs is used to indicate the dangers of extreme heat?

3. Which one of the following is the most distinctive feature of the current climate trend?
4. What does 'this' refer at the end of paragraph 2?

5. Which word in paragraph 3 or 4 is similar in meaning to 'directed to the past'?

6. What is the cause of global warming over the last century?

7. Despite the rapid rising of renewable energy sources, what is the reason that carbon emissions are not declining?

8. Why do very young and very old people suffer most in the heat?

9. Which of the following is not one of the things we must change to cope with the warming trend?


10. Which words or phrases go in the gaps. Choose the following words: experience, impact, political, communal, liberal, despite, although, owing to, cope, handle

The text discusses the  (a) of climate change and the severity of it. The writer predicts that extra short-term warmth such as a heatwave will continuously add to the long-term trend of rising global temperature in the future. (b) the rapid increase of renewable energy sources, carbon emissions are not declining due to increasing energy use. The writer urges us to take action at an individual level as well as at a (c) level to (d) with this changing reality.


Here are the keywords and phrases to learn:

  • asthma
  • atmosphere
  • carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • causes and consequences
  • chlorofluorocarbons
  • climate change
  • emissions
  • fossil fuel reserves
  • greenhouse effect
  • Industrial Revolution
  • health problem
  • heatwaves
  • methane
  • nitrous oxide
  • ominous trend
  • overpopulation
  • phenomenon
  • policy changes
  • post-carbon economy
  • smog
  • scorching heat

You realize your government is not making enough effort to tackle climate change. As a concerned citizen, write a letter to your Prime Minister / President / Head of State. In the letter, explain the severity of climate change and suggest solutions to stabilize rising global temperatures. You believe that we require social responsibility and collective action to tackle the issue.  Use the following checklist:

  • Formal register
  • Clear paragraphs
  • Serious tone
  • Progression of your ideas.

IB English B Language Skills

  • Listening & Speaking

    Skills to communicate both professionally and socially.

  • Reading

    Skills to stimulates imagination memory and recall information

  • Writing

    Skills to foster the ability to explain and refine ideas.

IB English B Themes

  • Experiences

    Opportunities to consider how events which take place impact an individual's life.

  • Human Ingenuity

    Opportunities to explore the sciences, technology and creativity.

  • Identities

    Opportunities to discover interests, values, belief and culture.

  • Sharing The Planet

    Opportunities to look at the challenges faced by individuals and communities in the modern world.

  • Social Organization

    Opportunities to explore the way in which groups of people organise themselves through common systems or interests.

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