Skip main navigation

Climate Change

Climate Change includes almost all terrestrial physical and social systems. It is a major challenge for Global Systems Science an Policy.
The Earth from space
© The UNESCO UniTwin Complex Systems Digital Campus.
The “Anthropocene” is the global system. It was originally proposed as a geological epoch in which humans have become a dominant driver of Earth System change. It reflects the nature, scale and magnitude of human impacts on the Earth.1
It is an ‘inconvenient truth’ that one of these impacts is that the way we live is causing irreversible climate change.
View Al Gore’s TED talk ‘What comes after an inconvenient truth?’ (Optional)
The climate system includes the atmosphere and the oceans with dynamics that operate at the global scale. The physical world, including the climate system, is increasingly interacting with socio-economic systems at national and local scales. Global warming is one consequence of this interaction.
The leaders of most nations now agree that greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, and that policies are required to reduce emissions. However, getting nations to agree global policy has proved very difficult, e.g. the US Senate did not ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and in 2001 President Bush withdrew the USA from the Kyoto process.
192 governments convened for the UN 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, but high expectations resulted only in a controversial political declaration, the Copenhagen Accord.
This can be seen as policy failure at the global level. Richard Black suggests that this was due to some governments not wanting a global deal, the US political system making its negotiators unable to commit its legislator to a deal, bad timing through Obama being a new and unestablished US president, various errors by the host government, the weather, 24-hour news culture, EU politics, and campaigners getting their strategies wrong.2
Global Systems Science sees policy making as a process in which possible solutions to perceived problems are co-created and evaluated by policy makers, scientists, and citizens.
The views and values of nations can be represented by a single person, but that person is subject to human frailties – not least getting tired and jaded after many hours of negotiations.
In December 2015 there was another attempt to reach global agreement in Paris. According to the EU3, it had to deliver a robust international agreement that fulfilled the following key criteria:
  • create a common legal framework that applies to all countries;
  • include clear, fair and ambitious targets for all countries based on evolving global economic and national circumstances
  • regularly review and strengthen countries’ targets in light of the below 2 degrees goal (scientists fear that a temperature increase of 2 degrees or more will cause dangerous and irreversible changes to the global climate).
  • hold all countries accountable – to each other and to the public – for meeting their targets.
The hosts of the Paris meeting learned many lessons from Copenhagen, and on Saturday 12 Dec 2015 an historic agreement was signed.3


1 Xuemei Bai, Sander van der Leeuw, Karen O’Brien, Frans Berkhout, Frank Biermann, Eduardo S. Brondizio, Christophe Cudennec, John Dearing, Anantha Duraiappah, Marion Glaser, Andrew Revkin, Will Steffen, James Syvitski. ‘Plausible and desirable futures in the Anthropocene: A new research agenda’, Global Environmental Change (2015),
2 Richard Black, ‘Why did Copenhagen fail to deliver a climate deal?’, BBC News, 2009/12/22
3 European Commission. ‘Climate Action: The 2015 international agreement’
© The UNESCO UniTwin Complex Systems Digital Campus.
This article is from the free online

Global Systems Science and Policy: an Introduction

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education