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International, environmental and space law

This contemporary module confronts how international law has evolved and functions within the framework for global governance in a changing and evermore complex world. The module's dynamic approach focuses on two exciting areas of international law, international environmental and space law, to develop your understanding of international law as the law of global governance. You'll study humanity's impact on the global and outer space environment and the governance mechanisms designed to manage that impact. As we move towards tackling the global climate emergency, this module will give you the tools to evaluate the feasibility and fairness of that transition.

What you will study

The cutting-edge nature of this module means going beyond the law and crosses into the realm of global governance. Its cross-disciplinary nature means delving into areas of the social sciences as well as elements of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It aims to give you the foundations of how to think about the challenges of the twenty-first century and how to evaluate the possible solutions to those challenges. This means that the content of the module tackles what have become known as ‘wicked problems’.
 
Wicked problems are challenges that are difficult or impossible to solve. Unravelling wicked problems is at the core of addressing the challenges that humanity face in preserving both the terrestrial and space environments. Appropriately, this module focuses on international environmental law and space law as two instances where wicked problems are centre stage in global governance. The difficulties are immense: yet solving them might be the key to future human prosperity.
 
The cross-disciplinary framework of the module is reflected in the way that you are assessed. This means you’ll get the chance to use different ways of communicating the law, including drafting a podcast script and creating a policy brief intended for the UK parliament to effect change.

The module is divided into the following nine units, and they all highlight the issues of participation, fairness, and justice in the global order.

Unit 1
You'll learn about the foundations of the international system, the sources of international law, and the key actors.

Unit 2
The focus is on the Global North-South divide, beginning with the impact of colonialism and the acquisition of territory by European powers. It will highlight the inequalities of the international system and the challenges that face the Global South.

Unit 3
You'll focus on international governance through treaties exploring the governance of climate change from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to the Paris Climate change conference and beyond.

Unit 4
You'll explore the place of international courts in the international system and the change that they have brought to the way that the international system is governed. The unit will use transboundary pollution, rights of nature, and human rights litigation to explore global governance through international courts.

Unit 5
In this unit you'll learn about the proposed amendment to the Statute of the International Criminal Court, adding Ecocide as a new international crime. You'll also learn how to produce an environmental case study in the form of a script for a podcast.

Unit 6
You'll be introduced to the core concepts of the governance of outer space, from the Outer Space Treaty to the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) and more.

Unit 7
You'll look more specifically at planetary protection issues and nascent environmental issues such as space debris, examining the connections with terrestrial environmental issues and governance.

Unit 8
You'll examine the diversity of space actors (or lack of) – in the sense of the organisations, companies, and states engaged in space activities – and the people who comprise those entities.

Unit 9
You'll explore the governance of resource utilisation in the global commons, which includes outer space.
 

Entry requirements

If you are new to study at university level, or are returning after some time, we recommend that you first study an OU level 1 law module such as Criminal law and the courts (W111) or Civil justice and tort law (W112), unless you are a graduate entry student.

If you are studying this module as part of the Bachelor of Laws (Honours) (LLB) (R81) or Bachelor of Laws (Honours) (graduate entry) (LLB) (R82), then you will need to have studied or be studying on a concurrent presentation of Public law (W211) before enrolling on W260.

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

Preparatory work

You might find the following resources useful in preparation for this module:

What's included

You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assignment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access and tutor support.

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 Monterey 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

Throughout your studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They will help you by:

  • marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • providing individual guidance, whether that is for general study skills or specific module content.
  • facilitating online discussions between your fellow students in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.

Assessment

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

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying W260 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

International, environmental and space law starts once a year – in February. This page describes the module that will start in February 2025. We expect it to start for the last time in February 2030.

Course work includes:

2 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
1 Interactive computer-marked assignment (iCMA)
End-of-module assessment