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Earth in crisis: environmental policy in an international context

This innovative module explores the causes and consequences of a range of international environmental problems and resource conflicts, including loss of biological diversity, water allocation and urbanisation. Particular attention is paid to climate change. You’ll learn how political divisions, inequalities and contentions over values and knowledge can hinder policy responses to environmental problems, and evaluate what can and should be done in the future at both political and individual levels. The module is ideal if you wish to develop a policy-relevant understanding of international environmental problems for either personal interest or career development.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code
Study level
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
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Entry requirements
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What you will study

The contemporary world faces an unprecedented environmental challenge. Whether we look at global problems like climate change and pollution of the atmosphere, or more regional and local problems like loss of species, habitats and livelihoods, increasingly, international responses are sought to these dilemmas. Yet the global reach of this environmental challenge, and the complexity of causes and potential solutions, means that policy responses are also intertwined with issues of development, international justice and responsibility.

This module engages with this environmental crisis, and asks: what are the causes and consequences of environmental problems; what have been the political and policy responses to them; and what else could or should be done in the future? In assessing environmental policy in an international context, the module will help you to develop a better understanding of the range of these challenges. It will help you to understand the underlying social processes that shape them, and the conceptual and theoretical tools you need to analyse them. The module draws on ideas from a range of social science disciplines including geography and environmental studies; politics and international studies; economics; and development studies.

The module is divided into three blocks and each block has a book as a core component, accompanied by a range of online videos, audio and web-based interactive resources. As well as the conceptual skills you will learn, the module will also help you to develop your skills as an independent learner, equipping you with both the intellectual and key communication and study skills appropriate for OU level 3 study.

Block 1: A Warming World

The first block introduces one of the biggest, and most complex, of today’s environmental problems – climate change – in order to develop an overview of many of the issues, problems and constraints that recur throughout the module. Taking climate change as its focal point, Block 1 considers a range of perspectives on environmental problems including the relationship between science and policy, the international politics of environmental negotiations and economic and technological responses. Through this, Block 1 establishes a ‘toolkit’ of concepts and ideas, which will enable you to become conceptually equipped to consider other international environmental problems.

An online video on climate change (looking at Bangladesh and around the Thames estuary), audio programmes and a range of web-based activities will illuminate the subject and help you understand the issues and themes addressed in this block.

Block 2: Environmental Issues and Responses

The next block broadens out from climate change to consider a wide range of processes and problems. In some ways Block 2 is an extended look at ‘what is taking place in relation to international environmental problems today’. It begins by considering environmental implications of global and historical developmental trends – population growth, industrialisation and urbanisation – which help to shape the environmental problems we face, and set the international terrain on which they are addressed. These trends raise major questions about the world’s ability to pursue industrial development without compromising environmental sustainability and about the environmental effects of the world’s growing urban population.

Block 2 then focuses on how global environmental resources such as water and biodiversity are managed internationally, nationally and at the local level. Here you will be asking how environmental issues around water and biodiversity come to be defined and constructed as a problem, as well as the contests over policy responses that have been generated.

This block concludes by addressing the international political and economic dimensions of global environmental governance. It assesses the character and importance of formal intergovernmental institutions, agreements and the policies emanating from those arrangements. It also draws attention to wider notions of the ways in which governance of the international economy shapes and constrains responses to environmental problems.

The themes examined in Block 2 will be supported by online video and audio resources together with a range of interactive web-based activities.

Block 3: Prospects and Possibilities

The responses considered in Blocks 1 and 2 demonstrate a mixed record in response to environmental crises. In contrast to the first two blocks, this block considers what might be done differently in the future. Where and how can we build on the successes that have been achieved and overcome the constraints we face? And what can you do as an environmentally aware citizen and consumer?

Block 3 considers a range of factors and social movements operating in places and through networks at a variety of scales from local to international, but all with potentially global significance. It searches for various currently marginal but potentially inspiring practices and policy options both in industrialised countries and developing countries. You will be looking at examples of change within current structures, including consumer movements and new forms of governance, as well as at some more radical attempts to change structures. In addition to examining what kinds of change may be feasible, Block 3 also considers what might be desirable, from a variety of standpoints and in relation to concepts of social and environmental justice.

This module is an ideal next step from OU level 2 study. You will consolidate a variety of study skills that you have learnt at levels 1 and 2. However, in addition, as a level 3 module, it has a strong independent learning component, which includes step-by-step development of independent learning skills such as how to research sources outside of study materials, and how to evaluate and integrate them into your analysis. Specific web-based activities are combined with the module continuous assessment through the first two blocks developing your use of external material.

Vocational relevance

This module provides a sophisticated understanding of the processes and players that shape contemporary international environmental problems. It offers an interdisciplinary view of these, and the policy responses and debates that have arisen, drawing widely from the social sciences. As such, it is an invaluable guide to those interested in making sense of contemporary international environmental problems and wishing to analyse and evaluate questions of public policy and action in this increasingly important sphere. This makes the module especially valuable if you work in any organisation, public or private, that operates in the environmental field, particularly those with an international orientation, or which seeks to influence public policy and debate on international environmental matters.

The study of this module will equip you with a range of transferable skills, including how to conduct independent research and evaluate diverse sources, which are sought after in a number of areas including environmental management and policy, and planning.

Are you are interested in geography? This module will broaden your outlook.  If you are also interested in going on to further study for a PGCE you will find our booklet Becoming a teacher useful.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material. They will mark and comment on your written work, and you can ask them for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

You must also submit your end-of-module assessment (EMA) online.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2015. We expect it to be available once a year, in October.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
1 Interactive computer-marked assignment (iCMA)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at levels 1 and 2 with the OU. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject.

Useful prior modules are Environment: sharing a dynamic planet (DST206), Living in a globalised world (DD205) or International development: making sense of a changing world (TD223).

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, speak to an adviser.


Start End England fee Register
03 Oct 2015 Jun 2016 £2700.00

Registration closes 10/09/15 (places subject to availability)


You may need to apply for some payment or funding options earlier. Please check the Fees and Funding information or contact us for information.

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after you register.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time that is convenient to you.

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2016. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

This information was provided on 29/07/2015.

What's included

Module books and website.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as the study materials and activities are accessible via a web browser. Any other computer-based activities you will need to carry out, such as word processing, using spreadsheets, taking part in online forums, and submitting files to the university for assessment, are specified in the module materials. If any additional software is needed for these tasks it will either be provided or is freely available.

We recommend either of the following:

  • Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system
  • Macintosh desktop or laptop computer running OS X 10.7 or later operating system.

A netbook, tablet, smartphone or Linux computer that supports one of the browsers listed below may be suitable. The screen size should be at least 1024 (H) x 768 (W) pixels. If you intend to use one of these devices please ensure you have access to a suitable desktop or laptop computer in case you are unable to carry out all the module activities on your mobile device.

We recommend a minimum 1 Mbps internet connection and any of the following browsers:

  • Internet Explorer 9 and above
  • Apple Safari 7 and above
  • Google Chrome 31 and above
  • Mozilla Firefox 31 and above.

Note: using the latest version for your browser will maximise security when accessing the internet. Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.

See our Skills for OU study website for further information about computing skills for study and educational deals for buying Microsoft Office software.

If you have a disability

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. Musical notation and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Other alternative formats of the module materials may be available in the future. 

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.