• University of Glasgow

Understanding and Measuring the Earth’s Energy Imbalance

Learn how greenhouse gases are pushing the Earth out of balance, and why measuring the imbalance could prove crucial.

309 enrolled on this course

Understanding and Measuring the Earth’s Energy Imbalance

309 enrolled on this course

  • 4 weeks

  • 3 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Intermediate level

Find out more about how to join this course

  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours
  • 100% online

    How it works
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    $244.99 for one whole yearLearn more

Understand energy imbalance as a problem and a metric

Energy imbalance is the difference in the amount of energy arriving on Earth from the sun and the amount returning to space. For decades, our escalating use of greenhouse gases has been pushing the Earth out of balance.

On this four-week course from the University of Glasgow, you’ll learn what energy imbalance is, how we could tackle it, and why it has become a vital metric for monitoring progress towards net zero.

Master the science behind energy imbalance

Researchers have shown that the Earth’s energy imbalance has almost doubled in recent years. If this trend continues, we can expect to see an even higher rise in global temperatures than previously predicted.

You’ll start by delving into the science behind energy imbalance, exploring how it connects to global climate change.

Examine strategies for tackling the imbalance

Once you’ve understood the causes of energy imbalance, you can begin to examine solutions.

In the second week of the course, you’ll think critically about what is needed to bring the Earth back to balance, and discover ways that the planet could get there naturally.

Learn why energy imbalance provides an indicator of climate progress

In the final week of the course, you’ll investigate why the Earth’s energy imbalance has become an important metric for monitoring our progress towards net zero.

You’ll be challenged to reflect on the best indicators for measuring success in our fight to beat the climate crisis.


  • Week 1

    How does the Earth store heat and respond to continued warming?

    • Welcome

      In this activity you will get an introduction to the course and an opportunity to learn more about the lead instructor, Professor Jaime Toney.

    • Understanding Greenhouse Gases and Warming

      In the next steps we will explore why global warming is happening. We will look at how long greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere and how that influences the pathways we should take for staying below 1.5 degrees of warming.

    • What do we mean by balance?

      In this section we will begin to assess what we mean by an energy balance and imbalance.

    • Where does the excess heat go?

      In this section, we will look at where the excess heat since the Industrial Revolution has gone in the Earth’s system, and address why there are concerns over our current trajectory.

  • Week 2

    What does it mean for the Earth to be out of balance?

    • Temperature Response to Greenhouse Gases

      In this activity we will look at what high concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere means for global temperature.

    • Stabilising to Current Conditions

      In this activity we take a look at some of the reasons the Earth needs a stable energy balance and how the imbalance we are currently experiencing impacts Antartica.

    • Net zero emissions as a target

      Net zero is becoming an increasing popular term, policy response and justification for climate action. In this activity we have a look at what net-zero is and examine it's potential, as a concept and tool.

    • Sustainability

      It seems like nowadays, the term ‘sustainable’ is used all around us – from food packaging to clothing companies and even tourism. In this section we look at the history of the concept and understand what it means today.

  • Week 3

    Can Earth's natural processes help toward decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

    • Feedbacks in the Earth System

      In this first activity of week 3 we look at the various feedback loops that are inherent to the earth's energy balance and how several of these impact the climate.

    • Can plants save the planet?

      In this activity we look at Nature-based Solutions, which involve working with nature to address societal challenges, providing benefits for both human well-being and biodiversity.

    • Offsetting - A solution that's hindering or helping?

      In this final activity of week three we examine off-setting, and whether carbon offsets can be an effective way of reducing emissions and tackling climate change.

  • Week 4

    What is needed to bring the Earth back into balance?

    • What do we need to achieve?

      The latest scientific evidence suggests that we need to get down to 353ppm CO2 in the atmosphere. This means that net zero is a difficult target, but it is not enough. In this week we explore further options and solutions.

    • Technology to the rescue?

      Technology is fundamentally changing the way we live, work, relate to one another and to the external world. The speed, breadth and depth of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent and is disrupting almost every sector.

    • Can behaviour change make a difference?

      Behaviour change is a central element of addressing the climate crisis. Most of the interventions required to reach global emission reduction targets (i.e., climate mitigation) require at least some behavioural change

    • A whole systems approach

      In this activity we take a look at systems thinking and how it might be applied in sustainability challenges. We understand why we need to look at the way all aspects of society (and thus any climate response) are interconnected.

    • Course conclusion

      In this final activity, course co-lead Ben Murphy summarises the content covered so far, posits revision points and indicates possible next steps for those keen to continue their learning journey.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explore the latest science on the Earth’s energy imbalance
  • Discuss why increased greenhouse gases have led to the Earth’s energy imbalance
  • Critically assess what is needed to achieve an energy balance

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone with an interest in the science behind the Earth’s energy imbalance, and its connection to the climate crisis.

Learners may include teachers, students, activists, NGO managers, supply chain managers, SME owners and many others.

Who will you learn with?

As Director of the Centre for Sustainable Solutions and Professor of Environmental and Climate Science at the University of Glasgow, I am interested in enabling people to act for a sustainable future.

Ben is the education officer for the Centre of Sustainable Solutions at the University of Glasgow. Ben works in climate change education and climate justice, both in teaching and research.

Who developed the course?

The University of Glasgow

Founded in 1451, the University of Glasgow is the fourth oldest university in the English-speaking world. It is a member of the prestigious Russell Group of leading UK research universities.

  • Established

  • Location

    Glasgow, Scotland, UK
  • World ranking

    Top 70Source: QS World University Rankings 2020

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Ways to learn

Choose the best way to learn for you!

Subscribe & save

$244.99 for one whole year

Automatically renews

Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Buy this course

$134/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 23 Mar 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

Sale price available until 4 March 2024 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply.

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

Sale price available until 4 March 2024 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply.

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