IPCC 2021 – Evidence for Past Climate Change

According to the IPCC report for Policymakers “In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years, and concentrations of CH4 and N2O were higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years. Since 1750, increases in CO2 (47%) and CH4 (156%) concentrations far exceed, and increases in N2O (23%) are similar to, the natural multi-millennial changes between glacial and interglacial periods over at least the past 800,000 years.”1

IPCC AR6 data sources


To gather information about the climate scientists need to use a wide range of sources. As can be seen on the graphic opposite, from 1800 onwards scientists can rely upon observations collected by various instruments. However to really understand climate change we need to examine longer term patterns going back thousands two hundreds of thousands of years. The evidence that we have for these can be taken for various sources as can be seen on graph B showing paleoclimatic sources of evidence. Paleoclimate is just a way of saying climate from the geological past.


Select one of the sources of instrumental observations and one of the paleoclimatic evidence and conduct some research into it.

Complete the tables to evaluate the methods of showing climate change.

Instrumental Evidence

instrumental evidence table

Paleoclimate Evidence

  1. IPCC, 2021: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S.L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M.I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J.B.R. Matthews, T.K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu, and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press. P10. Accessed 28th November 2021 at Sixth Assessment Report (ipcc.ch)
Climate Change Quality Mark Content

3D Print the Weather

The RMetS is delighted to have collaborated with CREATE Education to develop instructions to allow schools to 3D print sections of the Central England Temperature Record and use their models to learn about weather, climate, extreme weather and climate change.

These engaging, tactile resources allow students to get a hands-on experience of what climate is and how it can change, and how extreme weather relates to the climate.

The Central England Temperature (CET) data record is the longest instrument record of temperature in the world, with average monthly temperature each month from January 1659 to December 2018.

This project and the accompanying resources allow you to create 3D models that will represent 10 years of temperature data. The models have been designed to interlink, so students can create a series of models to represent larger timeframes. Once the 3D models have been created and 3D printed, there is a tactile resource that can be used in multiple ways in the classroom to visualise and study past weather and climate, and at how the climate of the UK has been changing over time.

The lesson resources specifically focus on

1. The difference between climate and weather

2. The current climate of the UK

3. The changing climate of the UK

4. Looking at past extreme weather events and researching their impacts on people in the UK.

3D model

Further resources to teach weather, climate, correlation, photosynthesis, regression, the carbon cycle, isotopes and more.

Further resources past climate change teaching resources for secondary geography.

6. Past Climate Change

Weather and Climate: a Teachers’ Guide

Pathway: Basic weather/ Climate 

 Weather and Climate – Atmospheric and Oceanic Circulation – Climate ZonesPast Climate Change 

Lesson overviewIn this lesson we look at how global temperatures have changed over the last 400,000 years and investigate volcanoes and the Milankovitch cycles as the drivers of change, in preparation for a more detailed look at anthropogenic climate change in later lessons. 

We know about the past climate of Earth from instrumental records and paleoclimatology in which we reconstruct global climate from proxy variables including air trapped in ice bubbles and preserved organic remains.  There are several major natural influences on the climate including the Milankovitch cycles, which describe the combined effect of changes to our planets orbit around the Sun, volcanic activity, the Sun and continental drift.  By understanding these, we are able to model past climates and improve our understanding of the Earth’s climate system.

Learning objectives:

  • To be able to describe the major changes to temperature over long periods of time.

  • To be able to explain why climate changes over time.

Key Teaching Resources

Past Climate Change PowerPoint
Past Climate Change PowerPoint (easier)
Past Climate Change Worksheet
Past Climate Change Worksheet (easier)
Little Ice Age Mystery Homework
Little Ice Age Mystery Homework (with key)
Little Ice Age Mystery (for Teachers)

Teacher CPD/ Extended Reading

Past Climate Change – More for Teachers

Alternative or Extension Resources

Mystery: Why do we expect a white Christmas?

Using tree rings to explore past weather and climate 

Past Climate Change Teaching Resources

Using Leaves as Thermometers

Research exercise – looking for sources of evidence for past climate change (advanced)

Weather and Climate: a Teachers’ Guide

Past Climate Teaching Resources

wordleThese resources explore the climate of five different scale periods of the past 2.6 million years. Within each, some of the basic processes affecting the climate are investigated. Please feel free to adapt the resources to the level and ability of the students you teach.

Module 1 – the last 2.6 million years: Milankovitch Cycles, Supervolcanoes

Module 2 – the last 11000 years: The Holocene

Module 3 – the last 2000 years: the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age

Module 4 – the last 500 years: Volcanoes

Module 5 – the last 200 years: the Sun, the Anthropocene and the Greenhouse Effect

Notes on the sources of data used.

Guide to sources of paleo-climate data.


These resources were jointly produced by Dr Kathryn Adamson (Manchester Metropolitan University), Dr. William Roberts (Bristol University), Dr. Chris Brierley (University College London) and the Royal Meteorological Society.

geographical association publishers awardThese resources were Highly Commended by the Geographical Association, who noted that they give teachers structured access to curriculum topics that are otherwise not readily found with up-to-date data from paleo-climate experts.

Past Climate Changes – Module 4

Past Climate Changes – Module 3

Module 3 – the last 2000 years

Core Resources

Climate graph, 1,500 years, without uncertainty

Climate graph, 1,500 years, with uncertainty


Past Climate Changes – Module 2

Module 2 – the last 11000 years (The Holocene)

Core Resources

Climate graph, 11,000 years, without uncertainty


Climate graph, 11,000 years, with uncertainty


Past Climate Changes – Module 1