Governing Global Sustainability

Course content

Over the last two decades, sustainability considerations have become central to international politics and the global economy. As a result, there is a growing need for political scientists to be fully conversant with the sustainability dimensions of public policy and the key actors involved in the governing of sustainability. This course will provide an introduction to the ways in which economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainability 

affect public policy and practice. Credence will be given to the transcendence of global sustainability governance from traditional top down UN negotiations to new forms of sustainability practices such as impact investments, municipal actions and grassroots environmentalism. During the course leading theoretical and empirical debates in global sustainability governance are presented as frameworks for independent critical analysis, and students will additionally be introduced to key sustainability practitioners from policy, business and civil society.

The course starts off by providing an introduction on the three pillars of sustainability (economic, social and environmental) with a particular focus on the concept and practice of sustainable development, including the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the core underlying principles upon which the concept is built.

In the second lecture students are made familiar with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that underpin contemporary efforts to govern sustainability both nationally and on an international level. Furthermore, the global impacts of climate change will be discussed with a particular focus on the uneven distribution of adverse effects on the global south.

In the third lecture the main debates within global sustainability governance are discussed with a particular focus on conflicting environmental narratives. The students are introduced to the main discourses that influence global sustainability governance, such as ecological modernization, civic environmentalism and climate justice.

The fourth lecture introduces various theoretical frameworks for analysing global sustainability governance. Students will discuss approaches in literature from IP, global governance and literature that critically engage with neoliberal environmental governance. Particular credence is given in this lecture to using foucauldian governmentality as a framework for analysing global sustainability governance.  

In the fifth lecture students are introduced to the key characteristics and mechanisms of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UN negotiations on sustainable development. We will also discuss the value to political scientists of using high-level meetings as platforms to study global sustainability governance through event ethnography.

The sixth lecture will clarify two main concepts associated with sustainability and climate change in particular: mitigation and adaptation.  Empirical examples are highlighted to show the students how mitigation addresses the causes of climate change, while adaptation focuses on reducing vulnerability to climate change impacts that cannot be avoided through mitigation.

In the seventh lecture students are introduced to the key characteristics of the global economy of sustainability. Empirical examples are used to teach students how to discern between different concepts, such as markets for emissions trading, climate finance and impact investments.

The eighth lecture focuses on Danish sustainability actions, both politically and in the private sector. Particular focus is given to investigating the true or 

falseness of the narrative of Denmark as a green powerhouse often portrayed by Danish politicians, media and business.

Lectures 9-12 will be supplemented by guest lectures from leading sustainability practitioners from civil society, business, local and national politics. The final two lectures will sum up the course, discuss the future of global sustainability governance and prepare the students for their oral exam.


Bachelor student: 10 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS


SRM students have priority

Learning outcome

Knowledge: Students will obtain knowledge about sustainability considerations in international politics and Danish public policy in a comparative perspective. Students will be able to account for specific economic and governance aspects of contemporary sustainability policy, using examples from Danish practitioners that operate on both a national and international level.

Skills: Students will be able to analyse specific sustainability policy issues and evaluate the empirical, concrete and complex challenges within the field of public sustainability policy. Furthermore, they will be able to account for key theoretical debates on sustainability governance and understand the different political and managerial challenges that arise from different governance approaches.

Competences: Students will obtain the analytical skills required to critically evaluate and employ contrasting theories on sustainability and their implications on policy and practice. Students will furthermore understand the evolution of global sustainability governance and demonstrate grounding in the sustainable development goals and climate change mitigation and adaptation approaches.

Lectures and guest lectures from relevant sustainability practitioners from policy, business and civil society.

Blaxekjær, L. Ø. & Nielsen, T. D., 2015. Mapping the narrative positions of new political groups under the UNFCCC, Climate Policy, 15:6, pp. 751-766 (15 pages).

Bracking, S., 2014. The Anti-Politics of Climate Finance: The Creation and Performativity of the Green Climate Fund. Antipode, 47(2), pp. 281–302 (21 pages).

Brand, U., 2010. Sustainable development and ecological modernization – the limits to a hegemonic policy knowledge. Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research, 23(2), pp. 135–152 (17 pages).

Bruun, J. & Watt, R., 2013. Corporate Capture in Warsaw: The “New Normal” in the Disaster Zone. Institute for Policy Studies. Available at:

Bruun, J., 2015. Mandagsanalyse: Den store knast er klimakroner. Politiken, (2 pages).

Bruun, J., 2016. A Climate Potluck in Paris. Manchester: The Povertist, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester. Available at: (1pages).

Bruun, J., 2016. Redirecting the Global Flow of Money. Foresight, 1(1), pp.62–63 (2 pages).

Bulkeley, H. 2013. Governing climate change in the city, in Cities and Climate Change, pp. 71-105 (34 pages). London: Routledge.

Bäckstrand, K. & Lövbrand, E., 2016. The Road to Paris: Contending Climate Governance Discourses in the Post-Copenhagen Era. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, pp. 1–19 (19 pages).

Campbell, L.M., Corson, C., Gray, N.J., MacDonald, K.I. & Brosius, J.P., 2014. Studying Global Environmental Meetings to Understand Global Environmental Governance: Collaborative Event Ethnography at the Tenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Global Environmental Politics, 14(3), pp. 1–20 (20 pages).

CAN, 2016. Small window, bright light: a History of Climate Action Network, Bonn: Climate Action Network. Available at: / 5-50 (45 pages).

Carbon Market Watch, 2014. Santa Rita: CDM Hydro Dam in Guatemala. Brussels: Carbon Market Watch, pp. 1-4 (4 pages).

Death, C., 2010. Negotiating sustainable development: from a global deal to partnerships. In Death, C., Governing sustainable development: Partnerships, protests and power at the world summit, London, New York: Routledge, pp. 60-89 (29 pages).

Elliott, J. A., 2012. An Introduction to Sustainable Development (4th Ed.). New York: Routledge, pp. 1-57 (57 pages). 

Foucault, M., 1991. Governmentality. In G Burchell, C. Gordon, & P. Miller, eds. The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, pp. 87–104 (27 pages).

Gaffney, O., 2014. Sustainable Development Goals: Improving human and planetary well being. Global Change 82, pp. 20-23 (3 pages).

Gordon, D.J., 2013. Between Local Innovation and Global Impact: Cities, Networks, and the Governance of Climate Change. Canadian Foreign Policy Journal 19 (3), pp. 288–307 (19 pages).

Hulme, M. et al., 2010. IPCC: Cherish it, tweak it or scrap it? Nature, 463, pp. 730–732 (2 pages).

IPCC, 2014. Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Bonn: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, pp. 2-14 (12 pages).

Jægerfelt, P., Madsen, S. P., Grann, E.D. et al., 2018.  Klima100: 100 climate solutions from Danish municipalities. Copenhagen: Sustainia and Real Dania. Pp. 6-25 (19 pages). Available at:

Klein, N., 2014. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada. Chapter 6: FRUITS, NOT ROOTS The Disastrous Merger of Big Business and Big Green, pp. 165-198 (33 pages).

Kothari, U., 2014. Political discourses of climate change and migration: resettlement policies in the Maldives. The Geographical Journal, 180(2), pp. 130–140 (10 pages).

Lohmann, L., 2012. Beyond Patzers and Clients: Strategic Reflections on Climate Change and the 'Green Economy'. In: Whats Next Forum III. Dorset: The Corner House, pp. 295-326 (31 pages).

Lovell, H. & Mackenzie, D., 2011. Accounting for Carbon: The Role of Accounting Professional Organisations in Governing Climate Change. Antipode, 43(3), pp. 704–730 (26 pages).

Lousley, C., 2015. Narrating a Global Future - Our Common Future and the public Hearing of the world Commision on ENvironment and Development. In E. DeLoughrey, J. Didur, & A. Carrigan, eds. Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities: Postcolonial Approaches. New York, pp. 245–267 (22 pages).

Methmann, C.P., 2010. “Climate Protection” as Empty Signifier: A Discourse Theoretical Perspective on Climate Mainstreaming in World Politics. Millennium - Journal of International Studies, 39(2), pp. 345–372 (27 pages).

Methmann, C.P., 2013. The sky is the limit: Global warming as global governmentality. European Journal of International Relations, 19(1), pp. 69–91 (22 pages).

Nakhooda, S., Watson, C. & Schalatek, L., 2015. The Global Climate Finance Architecture, Washington D.C.: Henrich Böll Stiftung and Overas Development Institute, pp. 1-4 (4 pages).

Nielsen, T.D., 2014. The role of discourses in governing forests to combat climate change. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 14(3) pp. 265–280 (15 pages).

The Equator Principles., 2013. The Equator Principles June 2013:  A financial industry benchmark for determining, assessing and managing environmental and social risk in projects. Pp. 1-24 (24 pages). Available at:

World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) Our Common Future. The Brundland Commission Report. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 5-27 (22 pages).


7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination
Oral exam with a synopsis
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28