50 Years of Global Environmental Governance

Course content

2022 marked the 50th anniversary of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, the first global UN conference on the environment. This course will reflect on how the institutions, issues, actors, and practices of global environmental governance have evolved over the past half-century. In addition, we will explore the potential of current environmental governance systems to accelerate social, economic, political, and ecological transformations for a sustainable future. This course relies heavily on active student participation. Classes will be interactive with discussions of assigned readings and weekly research activities where students will apply diverse theories and concepts to analyze global governance of specific environmental issues. Students are expected to come to class prepared to engage with course material and contribute to the shared learning experience.


This course is taught through a research-based teaching approach whereby students engage in guided inquiry with the aim of exploring existing knowledge of global environmental governance. Students will select an issue area to focus on, compile a reading list, and complete weekly research activities linking general course themes to their specific topic. Students are expected to come to class prepared to share insights from their issue with the class to contribute to the shared learning environment. The guided research activities also will help prepare students for the final assessment.


Course Outline:

         I.            Introduction

a.       History of Global Environmental Governance

b.       State of the Global Environment

c.       Theoretical Perspectives

d.       Introduction to Global Climate Governance

       II.            Actors

a.       States: North-South Relations and the Rise of China

b.       Non-state Actors

c.       Local Actors

     III.            Ideas

a.       Plastics and the Circular Economy

b.       Sustainable Development

c.       Environmental Justice

d.       The Anthropocene and Green Politics

    IV.            Approaches

a.       Transnational Governance

b.       Multilateralism

c.       Effectiveness and Transformation


Full-degree students enrolled at the Faculty of Politcal Science, UCPH 

  • MSc in Political Science
  • MSc in Social Science
  • MSc in Security Risk Management
  • Bachelor in Political Science


Full-degree students enrolled at the Faculty of Social Science, UCPH

  • Master Programme in Social Data Science
  • Bachelor and Master Programmes in Economics
  • Master programme in Global Development


Enrolled students register the course through the Selfservice. Please contact the study administration at each programme for questions regarding registration.

The course is open to:

  • Exchange and Guest students from abroad
  • Credit students from Danish Universities
  • Open University students


Notice: It is only possible to enroll for one course having a 3-day compulsory written take-home assignment exam due to coincident exam periods.

Learning outcome


  • Give an account of how the global environmental governance arena has evolved over the past 50 years
  • Identify some of the major achievements and challenges encountered in addressing global environmental problems
  • Understand and reflect on how understandings of what global environmental governance entails have evolved and the subsequent consequences for global environmental politics.


  • Identify and assess different theoretical and methodological approaches used in the study of global environmental governance
  • Apply theoretical and methodological approaches to conduct empirical analysis of global environmental governance in specific issues.


  • Critical thinking
  • Independent working
  • Oral communication and writing

Classes will be interactive. They will combine group work, discussion and lecture-style elements. They will actively engage with a variety of texts. Students will engage in guided inquiry on existing knowledge of a specific issue area in global environmental governance. This will involve generating a reading list and completing weekly research activities linking general course themes to their specific topic. Students will share their insights to facilitate peer-to-peer learning.



  • Allan, J., ed. 2022. State of Global Environmental Governance 2021. International Institute for Sustainable Development, Earth Negotiations Bulletin. Available at iisd.org/system/files/2022-02/state-global-environmental-governance-2021-en.pdf [28 pp]
  • Allison, J.E. and T. Hickmann. 2022. The Study of Global Environmental Politics: Strategies for Research and Learning. In Routledge Handbook of Global Environmental Politics (P. Harriss, ed.). London: Routledge, pp. 60-67. [8 pp]—note you do not need to read the entire chapter.
  • Andonova, L.B. and Mitchell, R.B., 2010. The rescaling of global environmental politics. Annual Review of Environment and Resources35, pp.255-282. [28 pp]
  • Betsill, M.M. 2014. NGOs. In Research Handbook of Climate Governance, edited b K. Bäckstrand and E. Lövbrand. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, pp. 251-261. [11 pp]
  • Biermann, F., Hickmann, T., Sénit, C.A., Beisheim, M., Bernstein, S., Chasek, P., Grob, L., Kim, R.E., Kotzé, L., Nilsson, M. and Ordóñez Llanos, A., 2022. Scientific Evidence on the Political Impact of the Sustainable Development Goals. Nature Sustainability. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-00909-5 [6 pp]
  • Bloomfield, J. and Steward, F. (2020), The Politics of the Green New Deal. The Political Quarterly, 91: 770-779. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-923X.12917. [10 pp]
  • Bulkeley, H., Andonova, L.B., Betsill, M.M., Compagnon, D., Hale, T., Hoffmann, M.J., Newell, P., Paterson, M., Roger, C. and VanDeveer, S.D., 2014. Transnational climate change governance. Cambridge University Press. Ch. 2, pp. 17-37. [21 pp]
  • Clapp, J. and P. Dauvergne. 2011. Paths to a Green World: The political economy of the global environment, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, ch. 1 (pp. 1-18) [18 pp]
  • Clapp, J. and P. Dauvergne. 2015. Brief History of International Environmental Cooperation. In Global Environmental Politics: From Person to Planet (S. Nicholson and P. Wapner, eds.), Boulder, CO: Paradigm Press, pp. 121-136. [16 pp]
  • Grabs, J., 2020. Assessing the institutionalization of private sustainability governance in a changing coffee sector. Regulation & governance14(2), pp.362-387. [26 pp]
  • Harris, P.G., ed. 2022. Routledge Handbook of Global Environmental Politics, 2e. London: Routledge.
  • Held, D. and Roger, C., 2018. Three models of global climate governance: From Kyoto to Paris and beyond. Global Policy9(4), pp.527-537. [11 pp]
  • Hested, D. 2021. The Evolution of Private Sector Action in Sustainable Development. Still Only One Earth Brief #12 Available at https://www.iisd.org/articles/evolution-private-sector-action-sustainable-development [9 pp]
  • Hickmann, T. and Stehle, F., 2019. The embeddedness of urban climate politics in multilevel governance: A case study of South Africa’s major cities. The Journal of Environment & Development28(1), pp.54-77. [24 pp]
  • Hopwood, B., Mellor, M. and O'Brien, G., 2005. Sustainable development: mapping different approaches. Sustainable Development13(1), pp.38-52. [14 pp]
  • Marion Suiseeya, K. 2014. Negotiating the Nagoya Protocol: indigenous demands for justice. Global Environmental Politics14(3), pp.102-124. [23 pp]
  • Martinez-Alier, J., Temper, L., Del Bene, D. and Scheidel, A., 2016. Is there a global environmental justice movement?. The Journal of Peasant Studies43(3), pp.731-755. [25 pp]
  • Menton, M., Larrea, C., Latorre, S., Martinez-Alier, J., Peck, M., Temper, L. and Walter, M., 2020. Environmental justice and the SDGs: from synergies to gaps and contradictions. Sustainability Science15(6), pp.1621-1636. [16 pp]
  • Morin, J.F. and Orsini, A. eds., 2020. Essential concepts of global environmental governance, 2nd edition. Routledge.
  • Newell, P. ‘What is Green Politics?’ in Global Green Politics (2019). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 21-48. [28 pgs]
  • Nielsen, T.D., Hasselbalch, J., Holmberg, K. and Stripple, J., 2020. Politics and the plastic crisis: A review throughout the plastic life cycle. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy and Environment, 9(1), p.e360. [18 pp]
  • O’Brien, K. and Sygna, L., 2013. Responding to climate change: the three spheres of transformation. Proceedings of transformation in a changing climate16, p.23. [23 pp]
  • Okereke, C. 2019. North-South Inequity and Global Environmental Governance in Routledge Handbook of Global Sustainability Governance (A. Kalfagianni, D. Fuchs and A. Hayden, eds.). London: Routledge, pp. 167-179. [13 pp]
  • O'Neill, K. 2017. Global Environmental Problems. In The Environment and International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 28-50. [23 pp]
  • O'Neill, K., Weinthal, E., Marion Suiseeya, K.R., Bernstein, S., Cohn, A., Stone, M.W. and Cashore, B., 2013. Methods and global environmental governance. Annual Review of Environment and Resources38, pp.441-471. [31 pp]
  • Palm, E., Hasselbalch, J., Holmberg, K. and Nielsen, T.D., 2022. Narrating plastics governance: policy narratives in the European plastics strategy. Environmental Politics, 31(3), pp.365-385. [21 pp]
  • Pattberg, P. and F. Zelli. 2016. Global Environmental Governance in the Anthropocene: An Introduction. In Environmental Politics and Governance in the Anthropocene (P. Pattberg and F. Zelli, eds.). London: Routledge. Pp. 1-12 [12 pp]
  • Qi, J.J. and P. Dauvergne. 2022. China's Rising Influence on Climate Governance: Forging a path for the global South. Global Environmental Change. 72: 102464. [13 pp]
  • Rasmussen, M. B, K. Capion and J. Bøttcher. 2022. A Way Forward for EU Energy System Modelling. CONCITO. Available at https://concito.dk/files/media/document/CONCITO%20-A%20way%20forward%20for%20EU%20energy%20system%20modelling.pdf. [5 pp]
  • Sénit, C.A. 2020. Transforming our world? Discursive representation in the negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics20(3): 411-429. [19 pp]
  • Skjærseth, J.B., 2021. Towards a European Green Deal: The evolution of EU climate and energy policy mixes. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics21(1), pp.25-41. [17 pp]
  • Stockholm Resilience Center. 2022. Planetary Boundaries. Available at https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries.html. [3 pp]
  • UN Environment (2019). Global Environment Outlook – GEO-6: Summary for Policymakers. Nairobi. DOI 10.1017/9781108639217.
  • UN. 2022. 17 Goals. Available at https://sdgs.un.org/goals. [4 pp]
  • Van der Ven, H., Bernstein, S. and Hoffmann, M., 2017. Valuing the contributions of nonstate and subnational actors to climate governance. Global Environmental Politics17(1), pp.1-20. [21 pp]
  • Widerberg, O. (2016). Mapping Institutional Complexity in the Anthropocene. A Network Approach. In Environmental politics and governance in the Anthropocene: institutions and legitimacy in a complex world (P. Pattberg and F. Zelli, eds.), London: Routledge, pp. 81-102. [32 pp]
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written examination
Type of assessment details
Written assignment
Three-day compulsory written take-home assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

- In the semester where the course takes place: Three-day compulsory written take-home assignment

- In subsequent semesters: Free written assignment

Criteria for exam assessment


Criteria for exam assesment

  • 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


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 semester

Department of Political Science, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Political Science
  • Department of Anthropology
  • Social Data Science
  • Department of Economics
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Michele Merrill Betsill   (9-77386c6f7e7d7376764a73707d38757f386e75)
Saved on the 17-11-2023

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