Sustainable Development

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Julia Corwin S414


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, BA in Social Anthropology, BSc in Accounting and Finance, BSc in Geography with Economics and BSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

Studying sustainable development today means recognizing the urgency of social and environmental problems facing current and future generations across the world. Throughout the year, we explore the relationship between human lives and the environment, debate what human ‘development’ and ‘sustainability’ mean, and discuss how to understand these complex and flexible concepts together. The course begins with studying the origins of sustainable development discourse and programmes, and then explores the challenges of sustainable development by looking at major global environmental and social changes, including debates on resource and energy use, urban growth, technology, industrial agriculture, commodity use and disposal, and changes in the global economy. GY121 is split into two distinct terms with different disciplinary and methodological approaches: Michaelmas term is taught by a geographer and Lent term is taught by an environmental economist. Together, these two terms expose students to the diversity of ways that sustainable development is thought about and studied, in order to foster critical understanding about the connections between environmental and social problems.


In the Department of Geography and Environment, teaching will be delivered through a combination of classes/seminars, pre-recorded lectures, live online lectures, in-person lectures and other supplementary interactive live activities.


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures across Michaelmas and Lent Term. 


This course includes a reading week in Week 6 of Michaelmas Term and in Week 6 of Lent Term

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce two pieces of written work during the year. One assignment is practice for the assessed essay (MT). The other assignment is practice for the take-home exam (LT).

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 an indicative list includes:

G Atkinson, S Dietz, E Neumayer and M Agarwala, eds. (2014) Handbook of Sustainable Development, 2nd edition, Edward Elgar Publishing; 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; J Hickel (2017) The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions. Windmill Books; R Patel and J Moore (2018) A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things. Verso Books.


Essay (50%, 3000 words) in the LT.
Take-home assessment (50%) in the ST.

The assessments are separated by terms; the essay covers MT content and the take-home assessment covers LT content.

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
First 36.8
2:1 51.2
2:2 8.1
Third 1.4
Fail 2.4

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Geography & Environment

Total students 2019/20: 81

Average class size 2019/20: 16

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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