Course code EDS348

EDS348 The Politics and Governance of the Environment

There may be changes to the course due to to corona restrictions. See Canvas and StudentWeb for info.

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Showing course contents for the educational year 2021 - 2022 .

Course responsible: Arild Vatn
Teachers: Pål Olav Vedeld
ECTS credits: 10
Faculty: Faculty of Landscape and Society
Teaching language: EN
(NO=norsk, EN=Engelsk)
Limits of class size:
Teaching exam periods:
This course starts in Spring parallel. This course has teaching/evaluation in Spring parallel, .
Course frequency: Annually
First time: 2010V
Preferential right:
Course contents:

Humanity faces a set of serious challenges regarding environmental degradation. While some problems - mainly some local harms - have been reduced, challenges are in general increasing. This regards biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution. The course aims at giving students a deeper insight into the characteristics and drivers of environmental degra­dation including key political and professional controversies over these issues. It will also look at the various political responses and discuss options for future action. We will focus at issues at both local, national and global scales, and the linkages between these levels.

A key concern regards the fact that environmental problems are largely caused by the ways we make our sustenance. They are an effect of the ways we produce and consume. They are the effect of single actions that may be individually innocent, while problematic in sum. Environmental politics and governance is therefore characterized by conflict - conflicts between different aims, between different individuals and groups, between ideologies and between the present and future generations. Our relation to other species is also an important issue.

Our actions are guided by humanly devised institutions. As the problems are created by existing institutions, solutions are also found by changing them. Environmental politics is therefore largely about which institutions to change and how. These processes are characterized by quite some disagreement regarding how serious the problems are, who should be responsible for reducing them, the trade-off between economic growth and environmental conservation, and debates over what kind of institutional changes are most effective.

The course aims at creating an environment for critical and in-depth analyses of these issues. In that respect, it also offers insights into different theories regarding how to understand both the challenges and the development of various policies. The course will look at the role of political ideologies, of states, intergovernmental organizations, civil society organizations and economic actors. It will look into the role and importance of participation. It will look at the use and effect of various policy instruments - e.g., the definition of use and property rights, publik regulations like legal, informational and economic instruments as well as use of markets in environmental governance.

The course will include the following elements

  • The characteristics of key environmental challenges
  • Theories of environmental politics and governance
  • Policy processes at local, national and international level
  • How to evaluate environmental policies
  • Impacts of general economic institutions and globalization on environmental policies (markets, free competition and economic growth)
  • Concrete policies and political processes in different areas of environmental governance - at local, national and global levels
  • Policy instruments
  • Visions for future policies
  • Group paper
  • Excursion
Learning outcome:


Students shall acquire deeper insights into the theories of environmental politics and governance. They shall develop their understanding of policy processes at different levels - i.e., local, national and international. They will learn about the role of different actors - both political, economic and civil society actors. Students shall moreover obtain high-level understanding regarding the way resource and ecosystem dynamics influence environ­mental conflicts, choice of policies and the effect of different governance structures. Students shall also attain knowledge of core international agreements, conven­tions and proto­­cols and how these were established, how they function and frame national policies. In relation to this, the course will emphasize the importance of general economic policies and how they influence the field of environmental policy.


Through active participation in class discussions, student presentations, group work, and written assignments, students shall acquire skills to study and critically evaluate environ­mental politics and governance at the global, national and local levels. Students shall develop their capacity to evaluate strengths and weaknesses of existing governance structures, and develop and evaluate ideas for alternative solutions to growing environmental challenges. Students shall develop their ability to undertake interdisciplinary analyses. They shall moreover acquire the skills to study various governance strategies for the use and maintenance of various environmental resources. Students shall learn how to use theory to study concrete cases concerning environmental governance at the international, national or local level emphasizing issues regarding e.g., effectiveness, legitimacy and political viability. They shall further develop their skills at presenting - both in oral and written form.


The course aims to encourage reflection on both own and other people's attitudes, values and norms and develop self-reflection around both scientific and interpersonal relationships. 

Learning activities:
Lectures, problem based group discussions, term paper (in groups), and student presentations. The course includes also a mandatory excursion where students meet representatives of different actors engaged in environmental governance in a chosen region in Norway.
Teaching support:
Seminars, discussions in class and supervision in relation to term paper

Course book: Vatn A., 2015. Environmental Governance. Institutions, Policies and Action. Edward Elgar.

In addition the readings will include a set of selected journal papers and book chapters. Information about these will be posted on Canvas early January.

Bachelor degree, EDS306 or equivalent
Recommended prerequisites:
Background in basic social science theory
Mandatory activity:
Term paper with associated seminars and excursion. Students are expected to attend a minimum of 60% of the classes offered by the course.

Continuous assessment: 

- Term paper 30%

- Written exam (3 hrs) 70%.

Exam in English only. Evaluation A-F

Nominal workload:
Total work load: 300 hrs. Lectures: 40 hrs. Group discussions, seminars and student presentations: 10 hrs.  Excursion: 2.5 days/20 hrs. Supervision: 2 hrs per group. Self-study, writing of term paper, preparation of presentations etc.: 175 hrs. Exam: 3hrs.   
Entrance requirements:
Minimum requirements for entrance to Masters level education in Norway (generell studiekompetanse)
Reduction of credits:
Type of course:
Lectures: 40 hrs. Group discussions, seminars and student presentations: 10 hrs.  Excursion: 2.5 days/20 hrs. Supervision: 2 hr per group. 
An external examiner will approve of the arrangements for evaluation and evaluate a selected number of the final written exams.
Allowed examination aids: A1 No calculator, no other aids
Examination details: Combined assessment: A - E / F