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Unit information: Environmental Policy and Politics in 2020/21

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Unit name Environmental Policy and Politics
Unit code GEOGM1409
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. James Palmer
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

This unit provides an advanced introduction to the political dimensions of contemporary environmental policy-making and governance practices. The unit will examine the power relationships through which science, states, corporations, and citizens are interlinked in efforts to resolve diverse environmental problems, as they exist at numerous scales from local to global. It will offer a balanced assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of a range of existing environment policy instruments and environmental governance frameworks. It will examine how different kinds of knowledge and evidence - both scientific and non-scientific - shape the ways in which environmental problems are represented, understood, and contested. Finally, it will also explore how the recent diagnosis of the Anthropocene is impacting on efforts to tackle and indeed re-think environmental problems, both at the global level and at smaller scales (e.g. in cities). The unit aims:

  • To introduce students to some key ideas about what an environmental policy is, and how policy relates to politics.
  • To provide a balanced assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of diverse approaches to governing the environment - including environmental economics, sustainable development, and eco-modernism.
  • To familiarise students with academic debates about the relationships between knowledge, expertise, power and trust in environmental politics.
  • To make students aware of the interconnections between environmental policy and broader socio-economic and cultural-political processes that shape distributions of power, wealth and wellbeing.
  • To enable students to undertake their own sophisticated analyses of ongoing environmental policy debates.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On completion of this unit students should be able to:

  1. Recognise and apply a range of different theoretical frameworks for understanding the root causes of contemporary environmental problems.
  2. Synthesise academic arguments about the strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of environmental policy instruments and environmental governance frameworks.
  3. Analyse how contrasting ideas and assumptions about nature and the environment impact on the design of environmental policies in practice.
  4. Analyse the relationships linking scientific knowledge, states, corporations, and citizens in diverse efforts to govern the environment effectively today.
  5. Construct and defend proposals for novel or alternative approaches to tackling specific real-world environmental problems.

Teaching Information

The unit will be taught through a blended combination of online and, if possible, in-person teaching, including

  • online resources
  • synchronous group workshops, seminars, tutorials and/or office hours
  • asynchronous individual activities and guided reading for students to work through at their own pace

Assessment Information

(1) A 1,000-word Negotiation Position Statement (worth 30%; maximum 1,000 words), completed mid-way through the unit, that sets out and defends the hypothetical negotiating position, and objectives, of a specific stakeholder involved in a current environmental policy debate.

(2) A 3,500-word Academic Essay and Summary for Policymakers (worth 70%), completed at the end of the unit, that sets out a coherent, evidence-based argument about a specific aspect of contemporary environmental policy and politics.

Reading and References

Davoudi, S., Cowell, R., White, I. and Blanco, H. (eds.) 2020. The Routledge Companion to Environmental Planning. Routledge, London.

Eden, S. 2017. Environmental Publics. Routledge, London.

Hulme, M. 2009. Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Kallis, G. 2019. Limits: Why Malthus Was Wrong and Why Environmentalists Should Care. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.

Owens, S. 2015. Knowledge, Policy and Expertise: The UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, 1970–2011. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Steffen, W. et al. 2015. ‘Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet.’ Science 347(6223): 736.