Sustainable Development

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Giles Atkinson

Dr. Kirstie O’Neill, Dr. Clare Barnes 


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 a number of concepts including human development, sustainable development and natural capital. We will then explore a variety of linkages between human development and natural capital (resources and environment). In doing so, we consider the viewpoint that society is being 'guided by the wrong compass' in the way that social and economic progress conventionally is measured by e.g. “GDP”. 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. We will therefore investigate the way in which this affects specific human populations particularly those who are amongst the most vulnerable This set of themes additionally will examine issues of resource security drawing on examples from debates about food, water and energy availability as well as broader debates about resource conflicts, population growth and changing technology.


20 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 20 hours of lectures and 9 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; WM Adams (2009) Green Development: Environment and Sustainability in the Developing World, 3rd Edition, Routledge, JA Elliott (2012) An Introduction to Sustainable Development, 4th edition.


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

Student performance results

(2013/14 - 2015/16 combined)

Classification % of students
First 19.7
2:1 47.5
2:2 27.3
Third 3.8
Fail 1.6

Key facts

Department: Geography & Environment

Total students 2015/16: 70

Average class size 2015/16: 18

Capped 2015/16: No

Lecture capture used 2015/16: Yes (MT)

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