UCL Centre for languages & international education (CLIE)


Climate and Energy

Key Information

Module code
Taught during
Session 1
Module leader
Professor David Waters
GPA of around 3.3/4.0 (US) or equivalent - please see below for subject-specific pre-requisites
Assessment method
10-minute presentation (25%), Open-book class tests (75%)
Download syllabus (PDF)

Module overview

What is the evidence for anthropogenic climate change? How can we generate low-carbon electricity from nuclear and renewable sources, and how can we make our transport infrastructure greener? If we fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently rapidly, will we need to intervene directly in the climate system through so-called “geoengineering”? This module will cover all of these topics, with a strong emphasis on the underlying physical principles and deriving simple estimates of the potential contribution of various low-carbon energy sources. In addition to attending lectures, students research one particular aspect of climate & energy in depth and present their findings in an essay and associated short presentation.

Learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this module, students will:

  • Understand the basic science underlying power generation from thermal sources, hydro, tidal and wave power, wind power, solar energy, nuclear fission and fusion, and the operation of a power grid
  • Appreciate for each source of energy the technical challenges, environmental impact and overall prospects
  • Understand the leading proposals for intervening in the Earth’s climate through carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management
  • Have the requisite knowledge and understanding to make their own critical scientific assessments of current issues in climate and energy science
  • Understand the basic energy balance of the Earth’s atmosphere, identify the most important means by which the Earth’s climate history has been reconstructed, and develop an ability to weigh the evidence for anthropogenic climate change

Module prerequisites

An understanding of mathematics or physics to first year undergraduate level is required: mathematics knowledge at the level of basic calculus, and physics knowledge at the level of basic classical mechanics & electricity. An understanding of classical thermodynamics would be useful but is not essential.

Module hours

Classes take place on the Bloomsbury campus, Monday through to Friday, during the daytime. Off-campus site visits and supervised fieldwork may also take place during these hours. Assessment and a plenary event will take place on the last Friday. The module offers 45 contact hours, but students are expected to spend an additional 100 hours on assignments and self-study.


  • 10-minute presentation (25%)
  • Open-book class tests (75%)

Module leader

David Waters is Professor of Physics at University College London, where he has been based since 2001. He is a particle physicist who has worked on hadron collisions, cosmic rays and most recently in the field of neutrino physics. He has a long-standing interest in climate & energy issues, co-founding the 3rd-year UCL physics course “Climate & Energy” in 2011.

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