Sustainable Development

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Giles Atkinson

Dr J. Baka


This course is compulsory on the BSc in Environment and Development and BSc in Environmental Policy with Economics. This course is available on the BA in Geography and BSc in Geography with Economics. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

"Is development sustainable?" While this is undoubtedly a challenging question, the purpose of this course is to provide building blocks that will allow an answer to be formulated. In doing so, we will seek to understand better how the natural world is affected by development decisions and crucially how those decisions shape human development prospects or widen the gap between development outcomes across geographical regions and socioeconomic groups.All of this gives rise to a rich array of themes and debates, which are reflected in distinct sections of the course. We begin by introducing the concept of sustainable development and by asking what exactly it is that should be sustained (and why) and what are the pathways whereby human development is influenced by resource and environmental scarcities. We then proceed to consider the viewpoint that society is being 'guided by the wrong compass' in the way that social and economic progress conventionally is measured. As such, we scrutinize proposals for better metrics of sustainable development that, for example, take human-induced environmental change into account. We will also investigate the way in which this change affects human populations particularly those who are amongst the most vulnerable. Finally, resource scarcities are frequently relative and the uneven distribution of, or access to, resources has implications for how development outcomes and prospects are distributed globally and within countries. Our last section, therefore, examines issues of resource security drawing on examples from  debates about food and energy availability as well as broader debates about North-South resource conflicts, population growth and changing technology.


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

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce class essays during the year and to give class presentations.

Indicative reading

There are a variety of texts available for this course. A detailed reading list will be given at the beginning of each term but will include: G Atkinson, S Dietz,E Neumayer and M Agarwala (eds) Handbook of Sustainable Development, 2nd edition, Elgar, 2014 (forthcoming);; WM Adams (2009) Greening Development: Environment and Sustainability in the Developing World, 3rd Edition, Routledge, JA Elliott (2012) An Introduction to Sustainable Development, 4th edition, Routledge, RB Potter, T Binns, JA Elliott and D Smith (2008) Geographies of Development: An Introduction to Development Studies, 3rd edition, Pearson. United Nations Development Report, Human Development Report 2011, UNDP, 2011; World Bank, World Development Report on Climate and Development 2010, World Bank, 2009.


Exam (75%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (25%) in the LT.

Student performance results

(2010/11 - 2012/13 combined)

Classification % of students
First 19.6
2:1 51
2:2 27.5
Third 1
Fail 1

Key facts

Department: Geography & Environment

Total students 2012/13: 48

Average class size 2012/13: 17

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

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

Course survey results

(2010/11 - 2012/13 combined)

1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 67.2%



Reading list (Q2.1)


Materials (Q2.3)


Course satisfied (Q2.4)


Lectures (Q2.5)


Integration (Q2.6)


Contact (Q2.7)


Feedback (Q2.8)


Recommend (Q2.9)