UNU-WIDER and AERC launch an online course on Climate Change

Alyssa McCluskey, Channing Arndt, and Innocent Matshe

In April-May of this year, the AERC and UNU-WIDER offered an online course on climate change. The course—Climate Change Science and Modelling Biophysical Impacts—is a three-week online course covering the current science on climate change and its biophysical implications. It is designed for professionals in different disciplines who are confronting the issue of climate change in their work. This first edition of the course focused on scholars in departments of economics or related disciplines at African universities. In all, 31 scholars from 17 countries participated in the online course. Of this group, 28 met at the end of June 2011 at the Department of Economics at the University of Cape Town for an intensive short course on the economics of climate change. This economics course will then be transferred online to provide a course covering science, biophysics and economics.

The goal of the programme is to provide working professionals with core knowledge of climate change and related issues. The first part of the course covers the climate system; including evidence and scepticism of climate change, climate change scenarios (SRES), downscaling, and projections reliability. The second part of the course covers biophysical impacts of climate change; including modelling of hydrology, flooding, and droughts, crop modelling, water resources modelling, and infrastructure modelling. The economics of climate change component covers discounting, uncertainty (‘fat tails’), global modelling and the costs of mitigation, implications for agriculture via the IFPRI's IMPACT model, country-level impact and adaptation strategies, and equity issues related to climate change. The course material includes readings, lectures, discussions, and a small final project.

Experts in each area were contacted to supply the content for the course. The experts created PowerPoint presentations with voiceover on their topic. They also suggested readings to support their lectures and were available at a specified time to answer questions from the participants.

For each main topic (i.e., science of climate change, crop modelling, etc.) there is a short introductory video from the given expert, a set of readings, and a lecture (PowerPoint with voice over). Participants are asked to submit a question from the material to ask the expert. The main assignment with each topic is to answer a small set of discussion questions based on the topic. The participants are divided into small discussion groups. These groups post their answers to the discussion questions and comment on the postings of other groups. The final assignment is a group project which asks each discussion groups to create a short PowerPoint presentation covering one topic from the course.

The logistics of delivering an online course to Africa are challenging. For the first online edition, the course was hosted using a free online classroom by Blackboard, called CourseSites. The CourseSites website is password protected so only participants enrolled in the course had access to the material and discussion boards. All of the material (readings, lectures, etc.) were uploaded to this site. In addition, UNU-WIDER and AERC mailed out DVDs with the course material at the beginning of the course and also provided an FTP site as an alternative location for participants to download the material.

Course evaluations were positive. As expected, technical issues arose (i.e., certain internet browsers worked better than others) but each participant was able to access all coursematerials, participate in discussions, and complete the course. Participants also productively interacted with their colleagues through the course discussion board. Overall, more than four out five strongly agreed with the statement ‘I would recommend this course to a colleague’ with the remaining 20 percent agreeing with the statement. These positive evaluations embolden UNU-WIDER and AERC to continue to work together to deliver high-quality training on critical development issues in a manner that is both cost-effective and accessible to professionals throughout the developing world.

About the authors

Alyssa McCluskey, Senior Research Associate, University of Colorado Climate and Civil Systems Group, and Training Co-ordinator for the Development Under Climate Change (DUCC) project at UNU-WIDER.

Channing Arndt, Professor of Economics, University of Copenhagen, and External Project Director. Development under Climate Change

Innocent Matshe, Director of Training, AERC.

Further information

The Research page of DUCC describes this project and lists all activities:


Individual interviews with participants from the online courses can be viewed on You Tube.

Participants from the Project activity: UNU-WIDER in collaboration with the African Economics Research Consortium (AERC). A one week course on the 'Economics of Climate Change' in Cape Town, South Africa.

  1. Jonathan Quartey
  2. T W Abraham

WIDER Angle newsletter
June 2011
ISSN 1238-9544