These activities can be done as an assembly or as a class. The shorter ones can be done as a class presentation to an assembly. They presuppose work done on what carbon emissions are, why they matter and what the greenhouse gas effect is.

Activities

These are most suitable for KS2 and above, though adaptable for Year 3 pupils.

They aim to make big statistics understandable for pupils; make it possible to visualise them on a comprehensible scale and incorporate activity on the Nuffield principle - "I hear, and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."

If part of a class exploration, the questions in the summary could be opened out into a Philosophy for Children discussion, with the students themselves coming up with questions inspired by the activity which could then be followed up, researched and discussed.

1.Where do people live?

If you draw a big world map in the playground with chalk, this has a useful knock-on effect in that children will talk about it afterwards when they come across it and be a reminder until it wears out.

You will need cards with the names of countries/continents listed below on them.

  • Brainstorm prior knowledge. Where do you think most of the people in the world live? How do you know? Where did you hear that?
  • If not using a map, have parts of the classroom labelled with the continents/countries, you are using.
  • Explain - we are going to pretend that our class is everyone in the world and we are going to show where we all live.
  • Give out cards with names of the countries/continents on them (folded to keep them secret)*.
  • Pick children one at a time (perhaps through a game) to quietly open their card and walk to the country/place on it.
  • When everyone is in place, ask each country/continent to put their hand up. You might get a few "wow" or "ooh" responses to surprising ones.
  • Summary; So, where do most people live?:
    In the world?
    In which continents?
    In which countries (China and India are the only two big enough to be worth differentiating).
    Is there anything that surprises you?

*If you have a class of 30 plus a teacher plus a TA, the proportions should be.

  • North America: 2
  • South America: 3
  • Europe: 4
  • Africa: 5
  • Asia: 20 (incorporating 7 identified as Asia/China and 6 identified as Asia/India).

Reference. Population Statistics - Village of 100 People (thoughtco.com)

The first activity is essential background to the next ones.

2. Where have carbon emissions come from historically?

Place pupils in their positions on the world map in the playground, or in their continent/country zone in the classroom.

Reference: Quantifying national responsibility for climate breakdown

  • Brainstorm prior knowledge:
    Which places in the world do you think are most responsible for carbon emissions - not right now, but  up to now?
    How do you know?
    Where did you hear that?
  • Explain; We are going to see which places have done the most damage up to now. If all the carbon emissions up to now were represented by these hundred squares, let's see where most of them have come from.
    You will need a large ten by ten square which is masked or set up on a whiteboard to reveal stats when you click on it.
  • Script: Europe gets 42 squares out of 100, that's 42%.
    28 of those squares are from the EU, countries like Germany and France.
    7% of that is from the UK (that's us). We have 1% of the world's population, so we've done 7X the damage of the average world citizen.
    The USA gets 40 squares, that's 40%.
    Japan, Australia and Canada get 10 squares, that's 10%.

    All these places are often called the "Global North" (even though Australia is a long way South)meaning the most developed and richest countries in the world. Between them, that's 92% of the damage done so far.
    The Global South is everyone else. Most of the people in the world. If you are in Africa, Asia, South America, between you, you have done 8 squares worth of damage - just 8%.
    So, the UK has done almost as much damage up to now as all of you (and that includes China and India).
  • Summary. Is there anything that surprises you?
    What does this mean about who is most responsible and should be taking the greatest share of the costs of cleaning up the mess? This could lead on to...

3. Where are carbon emissions coming from now?

Place pupils in their continental/country positions.

Reference. Annual total CO₂ emissions, by world region  The graph this comes illustrates how fast carbon emissions are growing.

  • Brainstorm prior knowledge. 
    Which places do we think are creating the most carbon emissions now?
    How do you know?
    Where did you hear that?
  • Explain: we are going to see where most of the carbon emissions came from in 2018. If all the carbon emissions in 2018 were represented by these 100 squares. Set up the whiteboard grid as in activity 2.
    Europe has 16 squares or 16%.
    North America (that's USA and Canada) has 19 squares or 19%.
    South America has 3 squares.
    Africa has 4 squares.
    Asia has 20 squares.
  • Summary. What does this show?
    Which continents are creating more than their fair share of emissions?
    Does anything surprise you?

4. But what about countries...?

With everyone sitting in their continental/country positions with 2 children with USA cards sitting in "North America", 7 with China cards and 6 with India cards sitting in "Asia".
Reference. Annual total CO₂ emissions, by world region

  • Brainstorm prior knowledge. Which countries do we think are creating the most carbon emissions now? 
    How do you know?
    Where did you hear that?
  • Explain. We are going to compare North America with two countries in Asia: China and India.
    North America pumped out 6 and a half billion tonnes of C02 in 2018.
    That's 2 of you from our village of 100, each with 3 and a quarter billion tonnes.
    China pumped out nearly 10 billion tonnes. Just under 1 and a half billion tonnes each for 7 of you.
    India pumped out 2.5 billion tonnes. Less than half a billion tonnes each.
    Show two graphics on the whiteboard, one of totals, the other of totals divided by the number of people in each place. 
  • Summary. Is it fair to compare emissions by country without taking account of how many people live there?
    Is it fairer to share the total amount from each country by the number of people in it to see what their individual carbon footprint is?
    This is called "per capita" which means per person. 

5. What about different levels of wealth?

This one requires a different division. Reference Confronting Carbon Inequality: Putting climate justice at the heart of the COVID-19 recovery (openrepository.com)

  • Brainstorm prior knowledge. What is a carbon footprint?
    Do we all have a carbon footprint?
    What sorts of activities that we all do lead to having a big carbon footprint?
    What happens to your carbon footprint if you are rich enough to do more of those things - and you do it? The richer you are the more you tend to have a big carbon footprint/the more damage the way you live does.
  • Explain - we are going to see if it is true.
    Divide the class into three groups, perhaps using the cards.
    For a class of 30, 3 people as the richest 10% in the world. 15 as the poorest 50%. 12 as the middle 40%. Go to different labelled places in the room.
  • Script: If we have the world's total emissions as these 100 squares again - how many would the richest 10% have if things were fair.
    Are we agreed on 3? The actual number is a bit bigger than that. Any guesses? it can't be more than 100 or less than 3. Answer "too high" or "too low" depending on what the response is.
    The actual number is 50% - half.
    You three are doing half the damage. What part of the world do you think most of these people live in? How many would the poorest 50% have if things were fair. Are we agreed on 50% - half?
    The actual number is a bit lower than that. Any guesses? The actual number is just 10%.
    Half the people in the world are doing just a tenth of the damage. The middle 40% do 40% of the damage.
  • Summary. What does this tell us about which people have to change the most?
    What does this mean about what we want in life? Can we all live like millionaires?
    Would it be better for the rest of us if millionaires didn't live like millionaires?

Resources

Actvities based on ideas from If the World Were a Village.

This book is suitable for primary school reading corners and a good non-fiction book to promote for World Book Day. 

Films add information beyond the activity and could be to give a three-minute summary of how the world is.

These films are suitable for secondary schools. 

This one is better for Primaries. it is ten years old, but the figures are not substantially different.