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Environmental policy in an international context

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This innovative module explores the causes and consequences of a range of environmental problems and the main policies that have been formulated to address them. They include climate change, ozone depletion, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and unsustainable development. You’ll learn how political divisions, inequalities and contentions over values and knowledge can hinder political responses to environmental problems. The module concludes by examining some of the policy options that might lead to a ‘green future’. You’ll find this module ideal if you wish to develop a policy-relevant understanding of environmental problems for career development or personal interest.

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.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at OU levels 1 and 2.

They are intended for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject. The following would be useful prior modules: Environment: sharing a dynamic planet (DST206), Environment and society (DD213) and International development: making sense of a changing world (TD223).

Academic writing, searching the internet, reading academic material, making notes, and thinking critically are all important skills developed in this module, and prior experience in these areas would be an advantage.

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

Preparatory work

Before commencing your studies, you may find it useful to follow coverage of environmental problems in the media.

What's included

You'll be provided with two textbooks and have access to a module website which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials
  • interactive activities
  • film clips and audio programmes
  • assessment guide
  • online tutorials and forums.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

We aim to provide online tutorials and recordings of these will typically be made available. While you’re not obliged to attend any of these tutorials, you are strongly encouraged to take part.

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.

The end-of-module assessment (EMA) will require you to write a short essay and a policy report.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying DD319 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Environmental policy in an international context starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2030.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment