International Environmental Politics and Policy

Tun Myint
Political Science, Carleton College


This course covers five arenas crucial to understanding the nature and dynamics of international environmental issues and political processes: (1) international political orders; (2) international environmental law; (3) human-environmental interactions through market and politics; (4) political and societal challenges of sustainability; and (5) dynamics of human values and rules. In addition to readings and discussions, students complete three projects related to specific case studies.

Course URL: linked from
Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is a second level course. Although it has no specific pre-requisites, most students will have taken an introductory level political science and/or international relations course before taking International Environmental Politics and Policy. This course also fulfills a "social, culture and policy" requirement for the Food and Agriculture and Conservation and Development foci of the Environmental Studies major.

Course Content:

International Environmental Politics and Policy focuses on issues and political systems that challenge traditional statecentric ways of thinking about international problems and solutions. Course topics include: Globalization and the Environment; the Fate and Future of Climate Change Treaties; International Environmental Law; Local Dynamics of Global Environmental Changes; Multilayer Environmental Governance; Rethinking International Environmental Institutions; and Commodity Chains and Environmental Changes.

Course Goals:

Students will be able to understand international environmental politics from both statecentric and multi-actor centric views.
Students will be able to articulate the connections between their own lives and international environmental politics.
Students will conduct a commodity chain analysis.
Students will gain knowledge about international environmental law and be able to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of legal approaches.
Students will articulate the fate of the Kyoto Protocol and evaluate future directions for climate change treaties.
Students will be prepared for the challenges in the practice of international environmental governance and the theoretical underpinnings of these challenges.

Course Features:

Key assignments include:
Leading discussion.
Exploring how use of specific everyday items defines a personal relationship to international environmental policy and politics.
Country position paper on the future of climate change treaties (Kyoto and post-Kyoto).
Analysis of commodity chain process for an individual commodity, including a paper and a group presentation.

Course Philosophy:

Three questions illustrate my philosophy in this course (though there are other important questions, too):
  1. How do individuals and groups shape local-global dynamics of international environmental politics?
  2. How can we understand how economic, political and social processes at multiple domains shape global environmental changes, including climate change?
  3. How can we understand the challenges of international environmental politics and policy formulation to face the challenges of global environmental changes?

I believe that the uncontested intellectual faith in traditional statecentric ways of thinking about international problems and solutions is an epistemological impasse to advancing our understanding of international environmental politics and policy making. Certainly, sustainability needs to be understood in a way that transcends statecentric approaches.

Sustainability is implicit in all the topics discussed in this course and in my approaches to them. The final paper/project, analyzing a commodity chain, specifically asks students to consider policy and institutional arrangements to minimize negative environmental consequences of the commodity.


Each of the major assignments has a clear set of objectives on which the assessment is based.


References and Notes:

  • Andrew E. Dessler and Edward A. Parson, The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change: A guide to the debate
  • Alf Hornborg and Juan Martinez Alier, eds. Rethinking Environmental History: World-System History and Global Environmental Change
  • Ronnie D. Lipschutz, Global Environmental Politics: Power, Perspectives and Practice
  • Thomas Prugh, Robert Costanza and Herman E. Daly, The Local Politics of Global Sustainability
  • Adil Najam, Minhaela Papa and Nadaa Taiyab, Global Environmental Governance: A Reform Agenda (this resource is online at