Transnational Environmental Politics

Course Description: 

Environmental challenges know no national boundaries; frequently, they are trans-national in nature and effects, and require a response which, typically, exposes the limits of and transcends state-based policies.

This course covers one particular aspect of transnational environmental politics, namely the conflicts over natural resources at and between different scales. In particular, it will focus on the nexus between three different but linked types of security: energy, water, and food. Recognition that energy, food and water security form a nexus of policy and human development problems around the world has grown dramatically among policy makers and analysts in recent years. “Nexus thinking,” whereby the interrelationships between energy, food and water become the primary unit of analysis, is spurring innovations in theoretical understandings and policy design. In the context of climate change, ecosystem degradation and continued population growth, the urgency for new policy approaches and understandings of how multiple resource constraints play out on the ground is growing. Increasingly, nexus thinking is being applied diverse issues, including resource management, poverty eradication and human development, and the green economy.

Recognition of the increasing trade-offs and conflicts surrounding the management of natural resources raises questions about the effects of various discourses and framings used to discuss these issues by both analysts and stakeholders, and the implications of various modes of analysis appropriate for various scales and cultural contexts. Seeking to bridge thinking in environmental sciences, international relations, and anthropology this course examines this nexus at various levels of analysis (global, regional and local), including cross-scale linkages. The feedback loops between energy, food and water policy and security issues will be examined, showing how trade-offs are often made and look for synergies and new solutions when policy communities interact.

The course begins with a review of the debates surrounding environmental and energy security. Next, it moves on to discuss the notions of resource wars, resource curse, nationalism, political ecology, environmental justice and sustainability implications based on systems perspectives. The central part of the course is case-based, with a focus on both macro and micro-level issues. Case studies will cover, among others, the politics of hydrocarbons in the Caspian region, ‘blood diamonds’ and the mining industry in West Africa, water politics in the Amu Darya-Syr Darya Basin, and the Mekong Delta region, mining in Central Europe, and the Tar Sands in Canada. The course concludes with a focus on international environmental governance.