What you will study
The contemporary world faces an unprecedented environmental challenge. Whether we consider global problems, such as climate change or ozone depletion, or more regional and local problems such as loss of species, biodiversity and livelihoods, effective policy responses are urgently sought. Yet the global reach of this environmental challenge, and the complexity of the causes, effects and potential solutions, means that policy responses must take place within an international context. Environmental problems cannot be viewed in isolation, as they are deeply entwined with issues of development, international justice and personal responsibility.
The module is divided into the following six blocks of study, each of which lasts three weeks. Your study each week will include a book chapter as a core component, accompanied by a range of online videos, audio programmes and web-based interactive resources.
Block 1: Climate change
This introductory block uses climate change, one of the biggest and most complex of today’s environmental problems, to help give you an overview of many of the issues, problems and ideas that recur throughout the module. You’ll consider a range of perspectives on environmental problems, including the relationship between scientific evidence and policy and the role of economics techniques in environmental policy responses. By the end of the block you will be equipped with a ‘toolkit’ of concepts and ideas which will enable you to analyse other environmental problems.
Block 2: International environmental politics
You’ll examine the role of the state in international environmental negotiations, and ask why, given the urgent nature of international environmental problems, states have found it difficult to agree stronger and more effective environmental policies. Game theory will be demonstrated when examining international negotiations on environmental problems, namely climate change, ozone depletion and the trades in hazardous wastes and endangered species.
Block 3: Natural resource management
You’ll start by looking at the problem of forest conservation, including some of the key ideas that shape international forest conservation policy, for example policies on illegal logging and timber certification. You’ll also consider biodiversity conservation policy, particularly with respect to the contentious issue of invasive species. Your study of natural resource management will conclude with the issue of sustainable agriculture.
Block 4: Global governance
A full appreciation of environmental policy requires an understanding of the broader structures of governance within which environmental problems are generated and environmental policy is made. You’ll gain an understanding of the role of some major international economic institutions in shaping the structures and processes of global governance, in particular the global economy. You’ll also explore some of the environmental policy responses of business corporations as well as the role of civil society organisations in lobbying for stronger environmental policies.
Block 5: Sustainable development
As sustainable development is a concept that has informed environmental policy making since the 1980s you’ll consider its different meanings, and how it can be attained. You will explore some of the policies made to implement the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). You’ll also analyse some global and historical processes, namely population growth and the development of engineering technology, and their role in sustainable development policy.
Block 6: Greening the future
By block 6 you’ll have a thorough grasp of some important environmental problems, and an appreciation of some of the constraints to more effective policy responses. You’ll prepare for your end-of-module assessment (EMA) by revising some key ideas and concepts from earlier in the module. You’ll also encounter some policy options for a ‘green future’ by looking at the ideas of a green state, a green economy and green citizen. This involves a mixture of looking back as a student, and looking ahead as a citizen.
You’ll develop your skills as an independent learner, equipping you with both the intellectual and key study skills appropriate for OU level 3 study, and important communication skills, including how to present written material for different audiences.
This module both evaluates existing policies and considers some possible alternative policies for the future. As such, it is of relevance for anyone whose work addresses, directly or indirectly, environmental problems. This includes business people, civil servants, local authority professionals, town and country planners, teachers and college lecturers, especially those whose work deals with geography, politics and development studies.