Sustainability Science and Policy: Problems and Perspectives

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Kira Matus CON6.10


This course is available on the BSc in Government, BSc in Government and Economics, BSc in Government and History and BSc in Politics and Philosophy. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

This course is capped at one group and the deadline for receipt of applications is Friday, 11 October 2013.


Students must have completed Introduction to Political Theory (GV100).

Course content

This course is an introduction to the analysis and design of policies meant to address the challenges of sustainability. Sustainability problems are often particularly difficult for policy analysts and decision makers because of their complexity and uncertainty in both the technical and political realms. They often require interdisciplinary approaches, drawing on fields from economics to sociology to political science to ecology. Sustainability science seeks to develop and use rigorous methodologies and tool-sets to approach some of the most difficult problems at the intersection of human well-being and the environment. The goal of the course is to explore how policy makers and policy analysts can make use of this interdisciplinary approach to be effective in the design and implementation of policies that impact both society and environment. This year-long, project based course will have three main goals.

1) To examine some of the major problems of sustainability, including issues such as climate change, green technology, global health, agriculture, biodiversity and natural resource management.

2) To introduce the different disciplinary perspectives that can be brought to bear in the study and analysis of these kinds of problems.

3) To learn tools and methods, including analytical techniques and presentation skills, that are required for effective policy analysis and decision making in this area.

Work in the course will be largely case based, and topical issues will be presented and mastered alongside different analytical skills and techniques. Students will be expected to work in teams to produce presentations and policy memos on specific topics. For the final project, the students will choose a local-level sustainable development problem and produce a policy analysis aimed at the appropriate decision maker.


10 hours of lectures and 20 hours of classes in the MT. 20 hours of classes in the LT. 2 hours of lectures in the ST.

Formative coursework

Students will complete 2 formative written assignments and 1 group presentation each term.

Indicative reading

Bardach, E. 2005. A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis: The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem Solving. CQ press.
Cash, D. W., W. C. Clark, F. Alcock, N. M. Dickson, N. Eckley, D. H. Guston, J. Jager, and R. B. Mitchell. 2003. "Knowledge systems for sustainable development." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 100 (14): 8086-8091.
Meadows, D. H. 2008. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Chelsea Green Publishing.
Meadows, Donella. 1981. Limits to Growth, a report for the club of Rome's project on the predicament of mankind. 2nd ed. New York: Universe Books. Hart, Stuart L. 2005. Capitalism at the Crossroads: The Unlimited Business Opportunities in Solving the World's Most Difficult Problems. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Wharton School.
Environmental Policy Economy, Elizabeth. 2004.
The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, c2004.
Kates, Robert, Thomas M. Parris, and Anthony A. Leiserowitz. 2005. What is Sustainable Development? Environment 47 (3): 9-21.
U.N. Economic and Social Council, Commission on Population and Development. 2009.
World Demographic Trends: Report of the Secretary-General. 1-22. New York: United Nations E/CN.9/2009/6.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2007. Summary for policymakers. In Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core
Writing Team, Pachauri, R.K and Reisinger, A. (eds.)]. Geneva: IPCC.


Exam (35%, duration: 2 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (15%, 1500 words) in the LT.
Project (50%) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2012/13: 13

Average class size 2012/13: 14

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills