Exploring the environmental injustice of climate change: An international debate teaching exercise

This page authored by April Karen Baptiste, Colgate University, Environmental Studies Program
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In this debate students will do research on an assigned country to understand the impacts of climate change on the country, the current climate change policies that have been adopted by the assigned country and overall view of the country's obligation by the international community to addressing climate change. Each student will then have use environmental justice and climate justice principles to develop an argument to support the assigned country's position on climate change.

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Learning Goals

At the end of the activity students should:
1. Understand the power dynamics that are involved in international decision-making associated with climate change
2. Understand how environmental justice concepts can be used to explain the inequalities that are created with climate change
3. Understand the details regarding climate change policies for specific countries
4. Develop critical thinking skills in applying environmental justice concepts to support the actual stance that countries have taken with respect to climate change
5. Be able to articulate an argument about environmental justice and climate change for a specified country to their peers
6. Be able to use environmental justice to propose solutions for addressing climate change

Context for Use

This activity is targeted at sophomores and juniors at the college level. It works best with smaller classes of no more than 18 students. The activity is an in-class debate and can be used in sessions that are between 75 mins to 120 mins. Ideally this activity should be used after students have understood the principles of environmental justice and have applied it a several case studies. The activity is used to raise international issues within the environmental justice frame surrounding a global environmental problem.

Description and Teaching Materials

Please see the - Climate Change supplemental debate guide for instructions on the activity. It provided information for how to guide students to prepare for the activity and what the debate will entail. Climate change debate instruction guide (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 31kB Mar18 13)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Instructors must ensure that they carefully facilitate the debate. There must be a clear round of opening statements to allow students to articulate their positions using environmental justice concepts to support the country's position. During the open floor debate component of the exercise, ensure that no one person or group dominates the conversation. Ensure that as instructor there are probe questions that can be used to direct the debate and to get students to address multiple aspects of inequalities including health, access to land in other countries, loss of traditional homes, loss of identity etc. Ensure that the power dynamics are highlighted where larger more powerful countries attempt to dominate the conversation over the smaller, less developed countries.


The assessment that I use for this activity has varied between being part of the class participation grade and being a formal graded assignment.

If part of the class participation grade, each student is assessed on the quality of their participation toward the debate, based on their individual contributions. I usually assign 5% of the class participation grade to this assignment.

If a formal assignment, then students would be required to submit a written opening statement as well as the main talking points that they used in the debate to state their position, using environmental justice concepts to support their position. This assignment can be worth 5-10% of the student's overall grade. An additional component of this assignment, if formalized can be a reflective essay whereby students are encouraged to critically reflect on the debates presented.

References and Resources