IEP: Introduction to Environmental Policy and Society

Course Description: 

This class examines the relationship between key environmental ideas and international environmental politics and governance. Co-taught by a philosopher and policy studies specialist, the class has a central focus on the dynamic between thought and political action. 

The politics of the environment have become prominent and often highly contentious in international relations over the past roughly thirty years.  Until the 1980s, most governments of developed countries considered environmental issues marginal and apolitical. At the same time, the governments of developing countries mainly considered environmental issues marginal but highly political, in the sense that they viewed the environmental agenda as a neo-colonial imposition by Western countries bent on controlling their economies and limiting competition through expensive environmental standards.  Neither view has survived the intervening years fully intact, although a deep divide between states over how to manage the global environment continues, often, to run along the so-called North-South border. 

In spite of profound difficulties of achieving agreement over an international environmental agenda, and the inextricable linkages and contradictory aims of the international development and economic agendas and the environmental agenda, a very complex and rapidly evolving global environmental governance system has emerged.  Moreover, cooperation over the environment has become more of the norm than the exception.  The simple North-South dichotomy that described much of the international politics of the environment in the 1970s and early 1980s has now been replaced by a multi-faceted and protean system of state-based coalitions and transnational networks of non-state actors that coalesce and dissolve over specific issues and environmental regimes. 

This course will provide a survey of the international politics of the environment, of the global environmental governance system, and of the competing theoretical perspectives and discourses that often inform and underly them.  We will cover the main historical developments that have occurred from the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human environment until the present, and explore some of the main theoretical issues that are debated in this field.  The main aim of the course is to prepare students to become competently engaged in the debates over international environmental politics, and to take part, in their various professional capacities over the course of their careers, in the process of thinking through the problems and dilemmas of global environmental governance.  

Learning Outcomes: 

Understand key concepts and institutional structures of international environmental policy. Be familiar with policy alternatives and institutional reforms for more effective environmental governance at the international level. Understand and critically engage with major contemporary discourses on the environment. 

Assessment: 

Assignment:                                                                                         40%

Exam:                                                                                                  60%