Cancelled Success and Failure in Environmental and Climate Policy

Course content

The world is facing a number of urgent environmental and climate crises. National, regional and local governments as well as the European Union and international organisations have addressed environmental and climate problems with varying success and sometimes failed. For instance, loss of bio-diversity is alarming, plastic in the oceans has reached a critical level and longstanding problems with chemicals and nutrients pollution of groundwater and surface water remain unresolved many places. On the positive side, some countries have been relatively successful in promoting renewable energy and organic farming. While there are technically feasible and economically efficient policy solutions available for addressing many environmental and climate issues, the reality is that when such solutions meet the world of politics other concerns often come into play in shaping policy measures. The course will introduce concepts and theories that enable us to understand the political aspects that must be factored in when designing environmental and climate policies. It is important to consider that public policy is politics!

In public policy research, there has been a longstanding focus on understanding policy failures, often ignoring that policy successes are indeed frequent. However, over the last decade there has been increased interest in understanding policy success. It is particularly the ground-breaking work on the three-dimensional conceptualisation of policy success that has invigorated research on policy outcomes. The distinction between the programmatic, process and political dimensions of policy enables a more nuanced understanding of policy success and failure, and not least why policy can be a success and failure at the same time. For instance, adoption of ambitious objectives for reducing greenhouse gases is often praised as major political and process successes, but it remains to be seen whether governments have the courage to adopt the measures needed to deliver in terms of reaching the goals (the programmatic dimension).

This course is cutting-edge in its approach to environmental and climate policy research as it applies the three-dimensional policy concept to discuss success and failure. Much environmental policy literature is limited to focusing on the programmatic dimension, evaluating whether a policy/measure will reach (or has reached) the objective. This often misses the point that environmental policy-making is not a technocratic exercise; rather it is a process in which inclusion and exclusion of interests can be crucial for whether policy works. Further, it is a process in which a range of political concerns influence policy design.

In the course, we will go beyond the concepts of policy success and failure and identify and discuss the circumstances and factors explaining success and failure in environmental and climate policy. These can relate to agenda setting processes (including hidden agendas), institutional context, policy design and instrument targeting (including placebo policy), policy integration (including greenwashing), disproportionality of the policy measures relative to the perceived problem and policy capacity.

The course is designed for students with various backgrounds in the sciences and social sciences and with an interest in learning about environmental and climate policy processes and willingness to be introduced to the fascinating world of politics and policy-making.


MSc Programme in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics

Learning outcome


Upon completion of the course, the participants will be able to:

  • describe the programmatic, process and political aspects of policy success and failure,
  • demonstrate ability to define key concepts and explain selected analytical frameworks for policy success and failure,
  • compare key concepts and theoretical frameworks and identify to which problematiques related to policy success and failure they potentially can be applied, and
  • critically reflect on the strengths and limitations of the key concepts and theoretical frameworks in relation to their ability to describe and explain policy success and failure.



Upon completion of the course, the participants must be able to:

  • Formulate a relevant research project based on a well-defined question related to policy success and failure,
  • explain the policy challenge in a case selected for analysis,
  • select and apply relevant theoretical concepts and frameworks to describe and explain policy success and failure in a selected case, and
  • present their policy project in a clear and balanced way that logically connects the research question, the description of the issue, the application of a theoretical framework, the evidence and the conclusions.



Upon completion of the course, the participants must be able to:

  • Apply theoretical concepts and analytical frameworks to reach practice-oriented conclusions on how to assess and understand policy success and failure,
  • systematically apply evidence obtained from policy documents, online sources and other sources to support such conclusions,
  • reflect critically on such evidence and how it influences conclusions,
  • take into account the political dimensions of addressing environmental and climate problems,
  • work in a team representing different disciplinary backgrounds, and
  • adapt their studying skills to unfamiliar challenges.

The course consists of three parts.

Part I: Class teaching
In this part of the course, there will be an introduction to key concepts and theories for the study of environmental and climate policy success and failure. Teaching will be based on lectures, group and class discussions.

Part II: workshops
The students will form project groups and select an empirical topic/case for their group project. To kick-off the work, the groups give oral presentations in which they use selected theory or concepts to reflect on issues related to the case and prepare questions for class discussion. A discussant group prepares comments.

Part III: Writing the group report
In this part, students will use the input from the workshops to work on their group assignments, using academic analyses, policy documents and online sources of information. Group supervision will be provided by the teacher.


A complete reading list will be read before course start. It will include:

Bovens, M. and ‘t Hart, P. (2016) ‘Revisiting the study of policy failures’, Journal of Public Policy, 23(5), pp. 653–666.

van der Heijden, J. (2015) ‘Regulatory failures, split-incentives, conflicting interests and a vicious circle of blame: the New Environmental Governance to the rescue?’, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 58(6), pp. 1034–1057.

McConnell, A. (2010) ‘Policy Success, Policy Failure and Grey Areas In-Between’, Journal of Public Policy, 30(3), pp. 345–362.

McConnell, A. (2018) ‘Hidden agendas: Shining a light on the dark side of public policy’, Journal of European Public Policy, 25(12), pp. 1739–1758.

In addition, relevant case studies from the books E. Lindquist et al. (eds.) (2022) Policy Success in Canada: Cases, Lessons, Challenges, OUP and de La Porte et al., (eds.) (2022), Successful Public Policy: Lessons from the Nordic Countries, OUP will be included.


Students from all disciplines can enrol. It is recommended that students have completed their Bachelor degree or equivalent.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment, during course
Type of assessment details
Group assignment with individual assessment. Individual contributions (maximum 8 pages) must be clearly shown in the assignment.
Exam registration requirements

Active participation in the group presentation under Part II of the course. The presentation must be approved by the teacher.

All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
One internal examiner.

Individual assignment (maximum 10 pages). Contact the course  coordinator when signing up for the reexam.

If the student has failed to meet the exam registration requirement, the student must, three weeks prior to the exam, give an individual oral presentation in which selected theory or concepts is used to reflect on issues related to a case and prepare questions for discussion. In the event that more than one student wants to register for reexam, the presentations may be organised as a group event.

Criteria for exam assessment

The group assignment will be assessed against the following criteria:

  • Ability to explain the policy problem (case) selected for analysis.
  • Ability to formulate a clear research question.
  • Ability to understand and explain the theoretical concepts applied in the assignment.
  • Ability to use the theoretical concepts to specify an analytical focus to answer the research question.
  • Ability to operationalise the concepts for the empirical analysis.
  • Ability to move beyond the description and analyse the identified policy problem by applying the concepts to develop your argument and to analyse the evidence.
  • Ability to focus the analysis by distinguishing between information that is relevant and irrelevant in relation to answering the research question.
  • Ability to reflect critically on the conclusion of the analysis and the relevance of the concepts applied.
  • Ability to think creatively and independently. 
  • Ability to present the analysis in a clear, logical and balanced way that connects the research question, the description of the issue, the application of an analytical framework, the evidence and the conclusions.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 30
  • Preparation
  • 67
  • Exercises
  • 9
  • Project work
  • 100
  • English
  • 206


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 block

Block 1
Study Board of Natural Resources, Environment and Animal Science
Contracting department
  • Department of Food and Resource Economics
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Science
Course Coordinator
  • Carsten Daugbjerg   (3-737471507976827f3e7b853e747b)

Carsten Daugbjerg

Saved on the 10-08-2023

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