Course Syllabus

Understanding Climate Change

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Semester & Location:

Fall 2024 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Elective Course - 3 credits

Major Disciplines:

Environmental StudiesSustainability
Environmental Science, Geoscience, Politics



Faculty Members:

Sebastian F.J. Zastruzny (current students please use the Canvas Inbox)

Time & Place:

Tuesdays and Fridays 13:15-14:35

Course Description

Climate change is one of the most important and discussed topics of our times. Understanding the science behind it, the expected changes and the potential implications is crucial when contributing to the public debate.

This course we will begin with a holistic approach at understanding the climate system, before highlighting different parts of the climate system, such as the energy balance, the hydrological cycle and the carbon balance, and a brief introduction to the toolbox, explaining how we measure weather and how we simulate the climate.

We will continue to learn how the reports of the international panel for climate change (IPCC) are written, what the reports are convening and how the global community receives them. We take a dive into different points of view of climate scientists, activists, critics and deniers, to develop the skill to proficiently act in the debate.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the core concepts of Earth’s processes, such as the energy balance, the hydrological cycle and the carbon balance.
  • Discuss the quality of climate proxies, historic data series, and the uncertainty of model simulations.
  • Analyze the language, processes and structure of the IPCC reports.
  • Understand the causes and impacts of climate change, as well as the options for mitigation and adaptation.
  • Evaluate different viewpoints and be able to argue with a solid scientific basis.
  • Create arguments in both oral, and written form, to explain the concept of climate change.
  • Experience real work implementations of climate adaption and mitigation.


Sebastian Zastruzny

PhD (Geography-Geosciences, University of Copenhagen). Educated in permafrost dynamics at the Centre for Permafrost, IGN. Research on permafrost cores, water samples, climate data series, process based modelling, and effects of future climate change. Conducted fieldwork and taught field courses in Greenland and Denmark multiple times.


Main textbooks:

Grotzinger, J., & Jordan, T. H. (2014) Understanding Earth. (UE)

Reconstructing Geologic History from the Stratigraphic Record p196-200
Measuring Absolute Time with Isotopic Clocks p207-209
Components of the Climate System p408-413
The Geologic Cycling of Water p470-477
The Hydrology of Groundwater p477-482
The Form of Streams p500-503
Consequences of Climate Change p662-665

William F. Ruddiman: Earth’s Climate Past and Future, 3rd edition, 2013 (EC)

Incoming Solar Radiation p20-21
Receipt and Storage of Solar Heat p21-28
Earths Biosphere p48-51
Climate Archives, Dating, and Resolution p56-69
Climate Models p69-76
Carbon Exchange between.... p84 – 91
Box 4.1 the Organic Carbon subcycle
Rock Exposure and ... p113-119
Climate and Human Evolution p318-332

Scientific publications and other texts;

Brander, M., & Davis, G. (2012). Greenhouse gases, CO2, CO2e, and carbon: What do all these terms mean. Econometrica, White Papers.
Dearing, J. A. (2006). Climate-human-environment interactions: resolving our past. Climate of the Past, 2(2), 187-203.
Edwards, P. N. (2011). History of climate modeling. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 2(1), 128-139.
Grimsson, O. R. (2011). Climate Change and New Security Challenges. In Climate: Global Change and Local Adaptation (pp. 3-8). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.
Hansen, J. E., Sato, M., Simons, L., Nazarenko, L. S., Sangha, I., Kharecha, P., ... & Li, J. (2023). Global warming in the pipeline. Oxford Open Climate Change, 3(1), kgad008.
Hulme, M. (2017). Climate change, concept of. International Encyclopedia of Geography: People, the Earth, Environment and Technology, 1-6.
IPCC, 2023: Climate Change 2023: Synthesis Report.
Kotz, M., Levermann, A. & Wenz, L. The economic commitment of climate changeNature 628, 551–557 (2024).
Lomborg, B. (2020). Welfare in the 21st century: Increasing development, reducing inequality, the impact of climate change, and the cost of climate policies. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 156, 119981.
Raworth, K. (2017). A Doughnut for the Anthropocene: humanity's compass in the 21st century. The lancet planetary health, 1(2), e48-e49.
Refsgaard, J. C., & Henriksen, H. J. (2004). Modelling guidelines––terminology and guiding principles. Advances in Water Resources, 27(1), 71-82.
Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin, F. S., Lambin, E. F., ... & Foley, J. A. (2009). A safe operating space for humanity. nature, 461(7263), 472-475.
Schneider, S. H., & Lane, J. (2006). An overview of ‘dangerous’ climate change. Avoiding dangerous climate change, 7(11).
WMO. (2022). State of the global climate 2021. - Extreme Events
WMO. (2022). State of the global climate 2021. - Socioeconomic Impacts
Xu, C., Kohler, T. A., Lenton, T. M., Svenning, J. C., & Scheffer, M. (2020). Future of the human climate niche. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(21), 11350-11355.

IPCC Reports (selected parts and figures)

IPCC, 2021: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change[Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S.L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M.I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J.B.R. Matthews, T.K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu, and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, In press, doi:10.1017/9781009157896.

IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA, 3056 pp., doi:10.1017/9781009325844.

IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, R. Slade, A. Al Khourdajie, R. van Diemen, D. McCollum, M. Pathak, S. Some, P. Vyas, R. Fradera, M. Belkacemi, A. Hasija, G. Lisboa, S. Luz, J. Malley, (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA. doi: 10.1017/9781009157926



Field Studies

Preliminary plans for field study days (not confirmed):

City walk around Copenhagen to experience climate adaption projects in the urban environment.

Visit of the UN City in Copenhagen to meet people working at the UN environment protection program (UNEP).

Approach to Teaching

The course utilizes a mixture of different teaching concepts, beginning with interactive lectures where core concepts are explained and consecutively applied in exercises and assignments. Once a basic understanding of a subject is achieved, the didactic environment is expanded to more participatory approaches, giving the students the agency to explore various topics.

In later seminars, group work, presentations, and simulations are employed to allow for interaction with peers, and anchor the acquired knowledge on a solid foundation.

DIS Accommodations Statement 

Your learning experience in this class is important to me.  If you have approved academic accommodations with DIS, please make sure I receive your DIS accommodations letter within two weeks from the start of classes. If you can think of other ways I can support your learning, please don't hesitate to talk to me. If you have any further questions about your academic accommodations, contact Academic Support 

Expectations of the Students

Active participation in the class activities, contributing to exercises and discussions, as well as engagement in online forums and assignments.


To be eligible for a passing grade in this class you must complete all of the assigned work. The overall grade will come from the following: 


10% Poster
Conference Poster about one of the 20 IPCC reports. The poster will graded based on scientific correctness, completeness of requirements and presentation style.

30% Online Quizzes
Three online quizzes (each 10%) with multiple choice and short text questions, covering the topics covered in class. Each of the tests will be announced at least a week in advance and can completed within three days at any location.

20% Preparation for the panel debate
In class we will simulate a panel debate between different opinion groups that is based on the essays. Groups will elect a spokesperson that talks on behalf of the group and explain their position.

The catalogue preparing the debate will be graded based on  on scientific correctness, completeness of requirements and logical structure of the arguments.

20% Group Report
Essay (6000-8000 words) written in groups of five, exploring the argumentations of different groups (scientists/activists/critics/deniers) that are speaking about climate change. All essays will have to include a factual discussion with scientific knowledge from the course and the views of the groups. Grading will be based on the stringency of argumentation, the link to the course material and the presentation.

20% Participation
We expect and encourage active participation in class, on the field trips, and in online activities. Active participation consists of...

  • being a part of the discussions by asking/answering
  • contributing to group work
  • working on the assignments/exercises
  • presenting results in class

Academic Regulations

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on:

DIS - Study Abroad in Scandinavia -

Course Summary:

Date Details Due