Climate change and sustainability resources

Discover free lesson plans, experiments and activities to explore how chemistry can help us tackle climate change and build a more sustainable future

Get started with 14 ways to teach sustainability in chemistry

Based on the UN's sustainable development goals, our Sustainability in chemistry series brings together tips, ideas and curriculum-linked resources to connect your existing chemistry lessons with sustainability.

Try them out

Global warming and the greenhouse effect

Develop your students’ understanding of the greenhouse effect, and investigate the chemistry behind efforts to reduce or capture greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The greenhouse effect

The corner of large agricultural greenhouse, with plants visible through the glass panels

Experiment

Modelling the greenhouse effect

In association with

Use this demonstration to illustrate the greenhouse effect and the role of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A photograph of the top of a factory chimney shown against the sky, emitting a dense smoke into the air

Lesson plan

What causes the greenhouse effect? | 16-18 years

Reinforce your students’ understanding of the cause of the greenhouse effect using this lesson plan with a demonstration and activities for 16–18 year olds.

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Resource

Other greenhouse gases

Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause a rise in global temperature. This worksheet looks at some data from other greenhouse gases to see if they have the same effect.

The carbon cycle and sequestration

Australia climate change drought

Resource

Reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere | 14–16 years

A research and debate activity investigating how scientists are working to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere

A photo of young people at a climate change protest

CPD

How to teach the carbon cycle at 11–14

Ensure your students have a firm understanding of the chemistry behind climate change

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Carbon dioxide gets stoned

Locking Earth’s excess carbon dioxide away by turning it into rock

Climate change

An image showing the pages available in the downloads with an iceberg in the shape of a 13 in the foreground.

Understanding climate change as a process | 14–16 years

A flow diagram activity to bring together learning about the greenhouse effect and climate change, with questions to consolidate understanding

Fossil fuels

An image showing the pages available in the downloads with corn in the shape of a 7 in the foreground.

Resource

Fossil fuels and global carbon emissions | 14–16 years

Classroom activity where learners explore and debate the issues around fossil fuels, energy and global carbon emissions

 An image showing the pages available in the downloads with yellow hard hats in the shape of an 8 in the foreground.

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E10 petrol and climate change | 14–16 years

Fuel your learners’ understanding about fermentation and bioethanol, and check recall and application of knowledge while developing student literacy

Air pollution and the atmosphere

Find out more about the Earth’s atmosphere and the human and environmental impacts of air pollution in our cities and homes.

Atmospheric change

An image showing an archive of ice cores

Frozen in time

2019-11-06T09:56:00+00:00By ,

What chemical clues locked away in ancient ice tell us about Earth’s history

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Radical changes in our atmosphere

2013-09-02T00:00:00+01:00By

Dudley Shallcross and Tim Harrison explain how a breakthrough has allowed us to study Criegee biradicals, and what this could mean for atmospheric science

Air pollution

View of a street in Piccadilly, London

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Taking care of the air

How do we control the pollutants we breathe in? This article includes specification links and resources for your classroom.

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Every breath you take

What’s polluting the air inside our homes? Nina Notman investigates

Energy and alternative fuels

From hydrogen fuel cells to solar power, use these resources to find out chemistry can help us cut emissions and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Three clear empty plastic drink bottles, against a plain white-grey background

Experiment

A hydrogen powered rocket

In association with

Try this spectacular demonstration to make a rocket using a plastic drink bottle fuelled by hydrogen and air. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A picture showing solar panels with blue sky and white colours top left corner to illustrate an article about fuelling the future with hydrogen, solar and wind power

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Fuelling the future

Switching off coal and oil

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The evolution of catalytic converters

From early smog problems to modern concerns about air pollution, catalysts pave the way in controlling the emissions from combustion engines

Test tubes with urine samples

The Mole

Hydrogen fuel from urine

Could urine be used to fuel our cars?

Sun in blue sky

Resource

Energy Card Sort

In association with The Solar Spark at the University of Edinburgh

Sort solar energy themed cards into groups and work out the connections between those in the groupsust

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The Solar Spark - solar energy resources

Browse this resource collection from The Solar Spark (University of Edinburgh) for worksheets, videos, experiments and more that explore the potential for solar energy.

Batteries and their impacts

Batteries are essential to the devices we depend on every day. They’re also key to new green technologies, including solar power and electric vehicles. But how do they work? And what impact do they have on the environment?

Rechargeable batteries

An image showing old mobile phones

Resource

Recharge your batteries | 14–16 years

Find out how lithium-ion batteries work, and the issues surrounding their manufacture and disposal

Five silver and yellow AA alkaline batteries against a yellow background

Experiment

Rechargeable cells: the lead–acid accumulator

In association with

Use this practical to demonstrate the chemistry behind rechargeable batteries, using a lead–acid accumulator cell. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Sustainable production and consumption

Add context to your teaching of life cycle assessments and polymers by exploring the science of recycling and how chemical scientists are creating more sustainable materials.

Plastic waste and recycling

An illustration showing different types of period products, from pads to tampons to cups

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Single-use plastic in period products

Forget bags and straws. Disposable period products are a much great contributor to the amount of plastic littering our environment

Mountains of waste plastic

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Plastic waste

Can science solve it? This article includes teaching resources

Bales of compacted cans

The Mole

Recycling plastic bottles

Recycling plastic bottles prevents the plastic from going to landfill, saves energy and reduces our dependency on oil. But what do we have to do to put the bottle back on the supermarket shelf?

Sustainable plastics and other materials

Large pile of green lego bricks

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Brick by brick

From green LEGO bricks to compostable shoes, Fiona Case investigates how Lego and Reebok are making biomaterials mainstream

A micrograph of a cross-section of a tree branch showing the cell wall and other materials

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Making materials from biomass

Biomass is regularly used as fuel, but have we been overlooking this sustainable resource as a source of chemical building blocks?

A photo of tree trunks showing their growth rings

Resource

Plant-based plastics | 11–14 years

Put chemistry into context and encourage your 11–14 students to use their critical thinking skills with these classroom activities

A close-up photograph of two potatoes against a neutral background

Experiment

Making plastic from potato starch

In association with

Try this class practical to make a plastic using potato starch and investigate the effects of adding a ‘plasticiser’. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

An image showing the September issue of Education in Chemistry in its compostable packaging

Feature

What's in a bag?

Creating compostable plastic

The environmental impact of fashion

An image showing a recycling symbol made out of fabric fragments

Resource

Assessing the life cycle of fashion | 14–16 years

Examine the environmental impact of our clothing with these resources

Sustainable industry

An image showing the pages available in the downloads with a factory in the shape of a 9 in the foreground.

Resource

Catalysts and reaction conditions for sustainable industry | 16–18 years

Research and presentation activity based on catalysts and reaction conditions in the context of sustainable industry

Reflect on your own consumption

An image showing the pages available in the downloads with two bins in the shape of a 12 in the foreground.

Sustainable consumption: individual action | 14–16 years

A research and reflect activity to get your learners thinking about the materials they consume and the impact of individual actions

Protecting our oceans

From microplastics to acidification due to carbon dioxide emissions – our oceans are under pressure. But chemical scientists are at the forefront of work to reduce and repair the damage. Find out more about the problems facing marine environments and investigate acidification hands-on.

Discarded plastic and other rubbish floating on the surface of water, with fish visible below

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The massive problem of microplastics

As plastics fill up and pollute our oceans, recognising their value rather than thinking of them as disposable could help us deal with what has turned into a large, global problem

Bubbles in water

Experiment

The reaction of carbon dioxide with water

In association with

Form a weak acid from the reaction of carbon dioxide with water in this class practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Clean, sustainable water

Find out how we can use chemistry to improve access to potable water and learn about desalination, separation techniques, water analysis and the water cycle.

Water analysis

Seawater splashing against a rocky shore

Experiment

Separating salts from seawater

In association with

Try this simple practical to show that seawater contains a mixture of different salts. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

An aerial photograph of the surface of seawater

Experiment

Dissolved substances in tap water and seawater

In association with

Compare the solids and gases dissolved in tap water and seawater in this class practical and demonstration. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Condenser set up in classroom laboratory

Resource

Simple distillation – practical videos | 14–16 students

Video resources showing the simple distillation of liquids using a Liebig condenser.

Water treatment and purification

  • Antibacterial properties of the halogens | 14–18 years

  • Water purification – practical videos | 14–16 students

  • Advances in water treatment

  • Water for life

The water cycle

An aerial photograph of cumulus clouds above the sea, with shadows and a ship visible below

Resource

The life of water

Get hands on with H2O, changing states of matter and the water cycle. These experiments and investigations involve water in the context of space

Food, farming and nutrition

Sustainable agriculture means providing enough nutritious food for everyone while protecting our climate and environment. Find out how chemical scientists are helping to develop new approaches to farming, fertilisers and reducing food waste.

Fertilisers

Reducing food waste

fruits

The Mole

Waste not, want not

Elinor Hughes investigates some of the latest developments in recycling food waste 

Additional resources

Job profiles

From monitoring the chemistry of our oceans to developing new, biodegradable plastics, chemical scientists are working to reduce our impact on the environment and make change possible.

Explore the job profiles below or visit A Future in Chemistry to find out more.