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This module is part of a growing collection of classroom-tested materials developed by GETSI. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
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Unit 1: Climate Change and Sea Level: Who Are the Stakeholders?

Bruce Douglas (Indiana University)
Susan Kaspari (Central Washington University)

Initial Publication Date: November 6, 2019 | Reviewed: December 2, 2020


How are rising sea levels already influencing different regions? This unit offers case study examples for a coastal developing country (Bangladesh), a major coastal urban area (southern California), and an island nation (Maldives). What are the anticipated consequences of additional sea-level rise this century in these different places? This introduction to the module is designed to prompt student consideration of the economic and social impacts of sea-level change. As a class, students conduct a stakeholder analysis for one or more of the case study regions in order to better understand how different segments of a society affect and will be affected by sea-level change.

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Learning Goals

Unit 1 Learning Outcomes

Students will:

  • Identify and describe the spatial, temporal, and economic relationships that exist between various natural and developed near-shore and offshore environments and sea level change, and determine those factors and potential responses most important for societal impacts.
  • Assess the variability in factors that are involved in responding to sea-level change for the various stakeholders, and describe potential impacts on societal conditions.
  • Evaluate the relationship between the impact of the timing and magnitude of sea-level change and the response of society at the local, national, and international levels

Unit 1 Teaching Objectives

  • Cognitive: Facilitate the students' ability to evaluate changes in land use and land loss and corresponding personal, cultural, and economic impacts of sea-level change. Demonstrate the connection between variations in the impact of changes in sea level and the role of various stakeholders and their responses.
  • Behavioral: Promote skills in making connections between changes required to respond to sea-level change for some stakeholders versus those that bear some responsibility for the conditions that are resulting in sea-level changes.
  • Affective: Encourage reflection about the various impacts on sea level with respect to different environments and use patterns. Promote scenario building about various stakeholders' roles, and support consideration and identification/description of alternative patterns of mediation and incorporation of technologies and policy efforts to reduce and/or remediate the impact of sea-level changes.

Context for Use

Unit 1 provides the motivation for undertaking the other units by providing human context for sea-level rise. The content in Unit 1 is appropriate for advanced courses related to Climate, Cryosphere, Geology, Geoscience, or the Environment conducted at the junior and/or senior level in which geodesy data may be introduced. Unit 1 can be adapted to lecture and lab settings as a series of interactive lecture activities, a lengthier in-class activity, or as part of a laboratory session on the importance of considering who may be affected by climate change and sea-level change. Time outside of class should be allotted to facilitate readings and web searches for materials necessary for completion of the Stakeholder Analysis. In this module, Unit 1 serves as a preparatory exercise that provides the students with experience considering the impact of climate change, what populations are most affected, and who are in positions to mitigate the impacts. If the entire two-week module will not be used, we recommend pairing Unit 1 with Unit 2: Global Sea-Level Response to Temperature Changes and Unit 3: Global Sea-Level Response to Ice-Mass Loss to give students an opportunity to attain a firm grasp of all of the components of sea level change that is a result of climate change.

Description and Teaching Materials

This unit requires some preparatory reading and homework and about 30–50 minutes of class time. Through the stakeholder analysis, students engage in a discussion about the societal impacts of climate-driven sea-level change. This may be the first time students have been asked to undertake this type of activity because science courses often do not engage in discussions of the societal ramifications of the observations scientists make.

Unit 1 is designed to fulfill two different, but important, functions.

  1. Introduce students to the basic concepts and impacts regarding recent and ongoing changes in sea level and predictions of how these changes affect different groups.
  2. Introduce students to the wide range of stakeholders that are linked within a global setting and how these groups may have conflicting visions and priorities. We use the term global purposely here to remind everyone that societal concerns are, with respect to sea level, inherently varied when one considers the distribution of the world population and what portions are affected by sea-level change and understanding the underlying causes.
The stakeholder analysis is eye opening for many students, particularly when conducted as a jigsaw activity in which the class examines the impacts of sea-level rise on all three sites: Maldives, Bangladesh, and southern California. While all locations are and will be facing serious effects from sea-level rise, students were struck with how much greater the challenges are for Bangladesh than for the United States. The stakeholder analysis led to interesting discussions on who is responsible for sea-level rise and who should be responsible for helping mitigate the effects of sea-level rise.


A presentation provides some background information on the case study location options, as well as introduces students to the elements and goals of a stakeholder analysis. The presentation may be used entirely on the day devoted to the stakeholder analysis; alternatively, a few of the earlier slides could be used to introduce the homework assignment and the remaining slides used on the main stakeholder analysis day.

Case Study Site Options

We provide three case study locations that you can choose from for the Stakeholder Analysis. We suggest that the instructor select which site they would like the class to do or let the class vote on the one to do. Another option is to use all three locations in a jigsaw approach. In this case, all three locations are used, with students working on one location and then coming back together to report on their stakeholder analysis.

  • Low-lying, developing nation (ex. Bangladesh)
  • Coastal urban area (ex. southern California)
  • Small island nation (ex. Maldives)

Pre-class reading and homework

Before the main Stakeholder Analysis class period, students should do the reading related to the selected case study location and complete the homework assignment. In particular, they should come to class ready to contribute ideas about different types of stakeholders related sea-level rise.

Stakeholder Analysis

This will probably work best if students are in pairs or small groups, depending on the size of the class. You can use the Unit 1 Presentation slides to help walk through the steps of the analysis. The intention is to give students a first exposure to a stakeholder analysis, not to do one to the depth that would be done professionally. It can help to emphasize to the students that stakeholder analyses are important in a wide range of jobs from environmental assessments to marketing.

  1. Overview definition of stakeholder and purpose of stakeholder analysis
  2. Students have already considered possible stakeholders for the case study area. Have them discuss ideas with a neighbor and then contribute ideas to the class discussion (think-pair-share). Arrive on a list of 5–7 stakeholders that the class will consider.
  3. Once a list of stakeholders has been compiled, the students may be allowed to volunteer to represent one of the groups or they can be assigned to a group. They could even be assigned to the group they are least sympathetic with, based on any previous knowledge or bias they may have. This serves to help students consider groups with views different from theirs.
  4. Groups should discuss among themselves what the characteristics of their stakeholder are and start to fill in the stakeholder matrix chart. Identify the principle involvement and impacts for each group.
  5. Next have the students consider the interest and influence/power of each stakeholder. It may help to use the cross-plot figures to help place the relative position of each stakeholder group.
  6. Finally have the students consider resources for action or (for stakeholders who may not be active yet) ways to engage different groups. Encourage groups to do quick online searches to see if they can augment their ideas.

Depending on the global/regional setting, the list of impacted areas for sea-level change might include the following:

  • Food and public water supply (salt water intrusion)
  • Housing and local transportation (loss, disruption)
  • Agricultural and industrial loss of use (e.g. loss of lands, infrastructure)
  • Environmental impacts (e.g. beach erosion, near offshore and onshore habitat loss)
  • Cultural and religious impacts (e.g. loss of cultural/religious localities, relocation-related instabilities)
  • Tourism and recreational impacts (e.g. beaches, fishing)

The list of stakeholders could include the following:

  • Local communities/residents
  • Commercial entities (e.g. manufacturing, transportation, fishing, tourism, agriculture)
  • Governmental agencies (e.g. city, state, and national)
  • Fossil fuel users (e.g. electrical power consumers, vehicle transportation)
  • Fossil fuel producers (e.g. companies that extract coal, oil, or gas)
  • International organizations and nongovernmental organizations (e.g. IPCC, United Nations, Climate Action Network)
  • Societal infrastructure organizations (e.g. water suppliers, power suppliers, schools, hospitals)
  • Scientific organizations (e.g. research institutes, NOAA, NASA)


Depending on the time available, either assign this as homework or give the students 5–10 minutes at the end of class to reflect on what they have learned. We suggest choosing at least one of the following example questions:

  • How has undertaking a stakeholder analysis affected your perspective on sea-level rise and why?
  • What surprised you most in undertaking a stakeholder analysis and why?
  • What would you like to know more about regarding the societal impact of sea-level rise?
Answers to reflection questions can be evaluated using the criteria below in the Assessment section.

Teaching Materials

Teaching Notes and Tips

  • Before working with students on a stakeholder analysis, the instructor should study the example of a stakeholder analyses provided and/or view the various web resources listed. It might be helpful as well to have a grasp of what is behind the terms "Influence/Power" and "Interest" that are at the core of a stakeholder analysis. Influence/Power may be thought of as being related to a stakeholder having the ability to bring about a positive impact (e.g. reduce the rate of temperature increase) or negative impact (e.g. impede efforts to slow temperature increase) on the question or issue that is being considered. For this unit, it would be related to how to address the issue of sea-level rise that is directly linked to changes in global temperature (both air and sea surface). Interest incorporates the level of direct impact the changes would have on a particular stakeholder group. This can vary depending on whether there is tangible impact on a daily basis versus potential impact that might take place to someone or some group.
  • Instead of focusing on just one of the case study sites, this unit can be run using a jigsaw approach. In that case, different groups each work on one of the three case study locations and largely conduct the stakeholder analysis as homework and then come to class with a few presentation slides explaining the effects of sea-level change in that area, their stakeholder analysis, and possibly their answers to a few of the posed homework questions and their reasoning. These groups will then make short, 5"15 minute presentations to the other groups. The jigsaw approach is very powerful for this topic, because while all three regions will be affected by sea-level rise, the scale of the impact differs by location. The contrasts and similarities between the locations can engender an interesting class discussion. The presentation material should then be made available for all groups to serve as additional references. If you have a larger class and want to limit presentation times, it might make sense to have students report on just the cross-lot of interest versus power.
  • To get going on a stakeholder analysis it is best not to overthink it. It is basically a simple process of identifying stakeholders and determining their level of interest in the outcome, their level of decision-making, and their level of power/influence. These changes can ultimately control the impact level for a particular process or event; in this case the impact of sea-level change. The stakeholder may be a single individual, a group of individuals, or an organization. It should be noted that potentially a stakeholder that sits in the outermost ring shown in Figure 1 may need to be elevated in terms of their importance in the analysis process, given the potential for disruption of the process and future outcomes such as through negative publicity for one of the primary stakeholders (e.g. reduction in public regard for a individual, company, or organization).
  • Once a list of stakeholders has been compiled, the students may be allowed to elect to represent one of the groups or they can be assigned to group. Alternatively, they could be assigned to the group they are least sympathetic to, based on any previous knowledge or bias they may have.
  • The stakeholder analysis process can then continue to evolve in the background as Units 2"4 are completed. If the instructor is planning to use Unit 5, the Stakeholder Report, it is useful to review Unit 5 with the students after completing Unit 1. This way students can be thinking about Unit 5, and perhaps be incrementally working on its completion, while working on Units 2"4. Students will need to use the results from Unit 1 in preparation for Unit 5.


Unit 1 is an introduction to the Understanding Our Changing Climate module with no formal summative assessment. It does provide formative assessment of students' knowledge and opinions about sea-level change, and particularly on how sea-level rise will affect society. However, a summative assessment of Unit 1 will effectively take place within the report prepared for Unit 5 that includes an assessment of the various consequences associated with sea-level change based in large part on the associated stakeholder assessment.

Although formal summative assessment is not a main focus of this unit, it might be good to provide some grading criteria for the elements students are required to turn in. Suggested criteria are:

Pre-class Homework Assignment

Each answer will be graded based on:

  • 3 points = answer is reasonable and, where asked for, well backed up with evidence or justified with thorough argument
  • 2 points = answer is reasonable and, where asked for, at least somewhat backed up with evidence or justified
  • 1 point = answer not completely reasonable and/or lacking supporting evidence or description
  • 0 point = incorrect answer

Reflection Question/s

  • 4–5 points = concisely but thoroughly describes current position and backs up with plausible reasons
  • 2–3 points = describes current position and backs up at least a bit with reasons
  • 1 point = current position poorly described and/or lacking supporting reasons
  • 0 point = no answer or completely off target
If instructors use presentations, the instructor may also want to provide credit for the presentations.

References and Resources

This section has been organized into groupings of references and resources as indicated by the sub-headings.

National, International, and Nongovernmental Organizations


Small Island Nations

Continental Coastal Cities

Topical Resources

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This module is part of a growing collection of classroom-tested materials developed by GETSI. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »