ESA-23306 Introduction to Global Change


Credits 6.00

Teaching methodContact hours
Individual Paper3
Practical extensively supervised18
Course coordinator(s)dr. ir. N Hofstra
Lecturer(s)prof. dr. R Leemans
prof. dr. NE Hoehne
prof. dr. EC van Ierland
dr. ir. N Hofstra
dr. F Ludwig
Examiner(s)prof. dr. R Leemans
dr. ir. N Hofstra
dr. F Ludwig

Language of instruction:



Global environmental change (or global change) entails the systemic and cumulative consequences of human activities on the Earth system. Systemic global change involves modification of global properties of the Earth system and opposes local and regional changes, which only through their cumulative effects obtain global significance. The effects of greenhouse gas emissions and the consequent climate change are an example of systemic global change. The more diffuse cumulative global changes are exemplified by widespread problems, such as groundwater depletion, deforestation, and species extinction.
In this broad and introductory course students will be introduced into many aspects of global change from a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspective. Physical, biological, social and economic issues will be discussed. The main topics of the six weeks are: introduction, drivers, modelling and scenarios, impacts, assessments and policy options. Most lectures will focus on general themes that set the scene and are relevant worldwide, while some lectures will provide examples from specific regions and countries such as the Netherlands.
The course should be used by students as a frame of reference in future studies as it makes them aware of the society and policy implications of natural and socio-economic processes that are involved in these changes. The course is a compulsory introductory course within the MSc Climate Studies; it will also provide interesting insights for a wide range of students from other backgrounds, such as Earth and Biosphere, International Land and Water Management, Biology and International Development Studies.

Learning outcomes:

After successful completion of this course students are expected to able to:
- explain and discuss the following elements of global environmental change at an introductory level:
a - drivers and processes, causes and impacts, and responses;
b - feedbacks and synergies, and spatial and temporal scale issues that all contribute to the obvious complexity of human environment interaction and uncertainties.
- explain and discuss how the elements mentioned above are presented in assessments of global change and used in global change policy
- recognize and describe the necessity of:
a - interdisciplinarity;
b - different conceptual frameworks and perspectives; and
c - definitions of global change concepts.
- participate in public discussions with a critical academic attitude and science-based arguments.


Lectures will provide the latest expert knowledge on global change issues. Each week students get the opportunity to process the material learned during the lectures in seminars. The seminars are linked together, as each of them contributes to answering the question (that will also be asked at the exam): 'How many degrees of warming could we allow to avoid dangerous climate change?'. During the course each student will also write an essay. This essay will be reviewed by peers and ample feedback will be given by the lecturers.


The grade is based on:
- an exam (75%;
- an individual essay (25%).
The central question of the seminars is asked at the exam and counts for 25% of the exam (19% of the final mark).


Articles, together with a reading guide, are available through the course website.

Compulsory for: MCLClimate StudiesMSc1MO
Compulsory for: WUCLCBSc Minor Climate Change: Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Society1MO