The Late Palaeozoic Ice Age (LPIA), spanning approximately from ~320 Ma (Serpukhovian, late Mississippian) to 290 Ma (mid-Sakmarian, Early Permian), represents the vegetated Earth's largest and most long-lasting regime of severe and multiple glaciations, involving processes and patterns probably comparable to those of the Last Ice Age. Accompanying the LPIA occurred a number of broadly synchronous global environmental and biotic changes. These global changes, as briefly reviewed and summarized in this introductory paper, comprised (but are not limited to) the following: massive continental reorganization in the lead up to the final assembly of Pangea resulting in profound changes in global palaeogeography, palaeoceanography and palaeobiogeogarphy; substantially lowered global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations (pCO2), coupled with an unprecedented increase in atmospheric oxygen concentrations reaching Earth's all-time high in its last 600million year history; sharp global temperature and sea-level drops (albeit with considerable spatial and temporal variability throughout the ice age); and apparently a prolonged period of global sluggish macro-evolution with both low extinction and origination rates compared to other times. In the aftermath of the LPIA, the world's climate entered into a transitional climate phase through the late Early to Middle Permian before its transformation into a greenhouse state towards the end-Permian. In recent years, considerable amount of data and interpretations have been published concerning the physical evidence in support of the LPIA, its broad timeframe and eustatic and ecosystem responses from the lower latitudes, but relatively less attention has been drawn to the impact of the ice age on late Palaeozoic high-latitude environments and biotas. It is with this mission in mind that we have organized this special issue, with the central focus on late Palaeozoic high latitude regions of both hemispheres, that is, Gondwana and northern Eurasia. Our aim is to gather a set of papers that not only document the physical environmental changes that had occurred in the polar regions of Gondwana and northern Eurasia during the LPIA, but also review on the biotic responses at different taxonomic, ecological and spatial scales to these physical changes in a refined chronological timeframe. This introductory paper is designed to provide a global context for the special issue, with a brief review of key late Palaeozoic global environmental changes (including: changes in global land-sea configurations, atmospheric chemistry, global climate regimes, global ocean circulation patterns and sea levels) and large-scale biotic (biogeographic and evolutionary) responses, followed by a summary of what we see as unresolved scientific issues and various working hypotheses concerning late Palaeozoic global changes and, in particular, the LPIA, as a possible reference to future research. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.