Reading the IPCC 4th Assessment Report for Human Impacts

Julie Maxson, Metropolitan State University
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Initial Publication Date: April 9, 2013


Working in groups, students investigate sections the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report. Each group focuses on a particular continent or region, evaluating both the Physical Science Basis, and the Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability sections of the report.

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Learning Goals

Learning goals include:
-Demystification of the IPCC report (prior to this point, students are overwhelmed by the knowledge that it is hundreds of pages long).
-Understanding of the degree of variability of projected climate change for different regions around the globe.
-Understanding of the wide differences in human impacts dependent on region, economies, agricultural practices, and health care.

Context for Use

This activity serves as an introduction to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. It is used in an upper-division course on Climate Change, situated within an environmental science curriculum. At this point in the term, students have a firm grounding in earth's climate history, as well as an understanding of the major forcings in current climate change. They have also been introduced to the overall structure and inputs into GCM's/OAGCM's and the Emissions Scenarios used in the IPCC Report.

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity is developed over 3 consecutive 2-hour class periods. Groups of 2-3 students are assigned to a particular continent or region covered in Chapter 11 of Working Group I's "Physical Science Basis" contribution. This document is available at
Chapter 11

The document is separated into packets for each group, which include the Executive Summary of Chapter 11, and the section on that group's continent or region (e.g. Australia and New Zealand, South America, Europe, Polar regions, etc), including text and figures. Each group then works with materials on their region to develop a brief Powerpoint presentation for the class. In their presentation, they discuss the overall projected trends for the region under the different emissions scenarios, as well as the uncertainties for that region.

Following the presentations, each group is given the text and figures for their region from the Working Group II contribution on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.

Their second investigation leads to briefer report-outs, followed by full-class discussion of "Climate Hot-Spots" - regions of the world where extreme climate impacts coincide with highly vulnerable populations.

Teaching Notes and Tips


No formal assessment is included for this activity,

References and Resources

The relevant sections of the IPCC 4th Assessment Report can be found at: