COMM 386C - Climate Literacy for Business

Climate change is the most pressing issue facing humanity and the private sector is playing an increasingly important role in responding rapidly and comprehensively to this challenge. The science of climate change is incredibly complicated and often poorly understood outside the scientific community. Business solutions to climate change are set against a backdrop of national and global regulatory frameworks ranging from the EU Emissions Trading Scheme to the Clean Energy Act in the US to the UNFCCC Paris Accord. Citizens, investors and communities are also creating enormous pressure on companies to take action to reduce their emissions and develop climate change solutions. Business leaders have to respond to this various pressures under conditions of economic, social and scientific uncertainty.

The purpose of this course is to provide students with a basic foundation in the science of climate change, the global regulatory responses to the issue including multinational agreements and specific policy instruments such as carbon taxes, scenario methods.

The course will describe the major elements of the climate system including the carbon and hydrological cycle and will describe the main areas of scientific uncertainty. Current climate change trends will be presented in the context of global temperature changes including the conditions under which fossil fuel reserves were formed. Students will learn about the energy transition and transformation associated with industrial revolution and the key drivers of growing energy service use over the last 250 years. Using an ecosystem services framework, the course will explore the value of positive externalities provided by natural and geological systems. In particular, the course will examine the role of natural assets including forest and ocean based ecosystems, which have the potential to mitigate up to 40% of carbon emissions. Focusing on the six key greenhouse gases, the students will explore the major sources of emissions and the broad impact anticipated from global temperature increases.

The course will examine the major global policy initiatives that have sought to manage GHG emissions and the intragenerational and intergenerational equity dilemmas these negotiations have surfaced. The course will describe the relative performance of the CDM and EU ETS systems and the major policy commitments under the Paris Accord. The course will examine the relative successes of renewables in the stationary power sector and the challenges of displacing liquid fuels in the transporation sector.

Finally the students will examine corporate commitments to carbon reductions and net zero through a range of emissions reduction pathways described in various scenario based studies, including the IPCC and the Shell Scenarios. 

Learning objectives

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Describe the main elements of a global circulation model.
  • Explain the relative importance of the major elements of the carbon cycle.
  • Describe the key areas of scientific uncertainty in the climate systems as the relate to business decision making.
  • Analyse the emissions and energy profile of countries at different stages of economic development.
  • Describe the major global policy initiatives to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
  • Identify harder to abate emissisions sources.
  • Analyze the benefits and costs of various climate policy measures from the perspective of a global company.
  • Apply scenario methods to support the development of a company strategy that is resilient in the face of uncertainty.

Course credits:

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