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Science of Post 2012 Global Climate Change Treaty

Tun Myint, Carleton College, Northfield, MN
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This material was developed as part of the Carleton Teaching Activity Collection and is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


This assignment is designed to provide students: (1) to learn how to conduct the cost and benefit analysis of implementing science into public policy; and (2) to understand the challenges of implementing science into action in real world. In order to set the tone for the interplay of science and public policy as the focus of the assignment, I ask student to put themselves in the policy thinking of the President of the United States. This assignment requires student to identify top three credible scientific findings about the role of Green House Gases (GHGs) and Global Climate Change. Then students identify the most credible scientific finding. This science is the one tha United States government (or the team's selected selected country) is most willing to engage in serious negotiation after Kyoto Protocol is expired in 2012. Students then conduct cost and benefit analysis of implementing the most credible science into action for the United States or their selected country. In this cost and benefit analysis, students are instructed to look into top three GHG emitting sectors of the U.S. economy and respective country. Based on the findings, students issue policy recommendations for the selected country's position for the post-2012 climate change treaty. The central question students answer is: what scientific finding should be a guide to the post-2012 climate change treaty and how that climate change science and the political economic interests of five major emitting countries be reconciled so as to achieve a sensible and threat-thwarting climate change treaty after Kyoto Protocol expires?

Learning Goals

There are three learning goals in this project for students:
  1. to understand the role of science in global climate change treaty;
  2. to analyze how science and political socioeconomic factors interplay in making global climate change treaties; and
  3. to examine diversity of solutions in addition to treaty making approach to the issue of global climate change.
For each of these goals, students are required to demonstrate qualitative and quantitative reasoning in their analysis and policy recommendations.

Context for Use

This is a team project for five to six students of different disciplinary interest and strength. The level of students are from sophomore to senior. I conducted a survey of registered students on the first day of class in which I asked students to list relevant courses they took before this class and to indicate their majors. I also asked them why they take the class. In addition, I asked them to select top two projects out of four projects I listed in syllabus for team projects. Based on this survey, I established teams during the second week. These teams are permanent for the entire term to finish their selected project. This project is appropriate for upper level students who have some experience of quantitative reasoning and research.

Description and Teaching Materials

Project Guidelines (Acrobat (PDF) 120kB Apr28 09)I provide detailed project guidelines which contain: (1) the statement of the problem; (2) learning goals; (3) steps to execute research and analysis: and (4) suggestion for organization of the final paper. I also provide project readings, relevant information and websites that are useful for the project. Readings about the current state of climate change science and policy challenge is provided from Andrew Dressler and Edward Parson (eds) The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change: A guide to the debate, Cambridge University Press, 2006. Chapter 3: Present Climate Change Scientific Knowledge and Uncertainties.

Teaching Notes and Tips

These projects are described in the first day of the class in brief. I have a brief version of each project in my syllabus. The handout contains a longer description that describes the problem, learning goals, and processes. The handout is provided in the second week when each team selects project. I meet regularly with teams and discuss their progress.


Team presentation and final paper in which quantitative and qualitative arguments are assessed.There are three components: (1) individual participation in team is assigned 5 points based on peer evaluation within each team; (2) final presentation is assigned 10 points; and (3) the final paper is assigned 15 points. The first meeting with each team was conducted in week 4 to learn each team's initiatives and to answer initial questions from students. Thereafter, I meet two more times before they submit the final draft of the paper on Week 9. The final polished paper is due after all presentations are done and at the end of ten week term.

References and Resources