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Some environmental problems have effects which impact large geographic regions and are therefore referred to as global pollution. Global pollution is difficult to control, both because the associated risks are widespread and because international cooperation is needed to achieve effective solutions. Examples of transboundary pollution problems are ozone depletion, global warming, biodiversity loss, acidic deposition, surface water pollution, marine microplastic pollution. 

Global environmental politics is a relatively new field of study, initiated in the 1990s, which extends the previous focus of international relation studies on the role of natural resources in global security to the new emerging global pollution problems. Global environmental politics exhibits a strong interdisciplinary approach, integrating research from a range of fields including geography, economics, history, law, biology, and numerous others. 

The goal of the course is to offer an introduction to this new field of study, addressing both its theoretical underpinnings and its practical achievements in the context of some recent international agreement aimed at tackle global pollution. Case studies will be presented, also through the testimony of leading scholars, who will be invited to speak during the course. 

Knowledge and understanding

Students will be able to describe the main global environmental problems and to understand the different intervention options available to international bodies and states. 

Applying knowledge and understanding

Students will be able to read the international treaties and fully understand their meaning and their implementation value. They will also be able to understand the different aspects of the negotiation processes, with reference both to the practical organizational issues and to the diplomacy-related issues. 

Further expected learning outcomes:

  • Making judgements: Students will be able to identify the fields of application of the addressed subjects and will also be able to express an independent judgment on the different policies carried out to tackle global environmental problems 

  • Communication skills: Students will acquire the necessary skills to communicate with non-governmental associations and the ministerial bodies involved in the negotiation processes of international environmental treaties. 

  • Learning skills: learning skills will be stimulated both theoretically and empirically; students will be asked to exemplify the application of the theoretical concepts through the analysis of case studies. 


  • The environment and international relations 

  • Classification of global environmental problems 

  • Presentation of the main international treaties 

  • Actors in global environmental politics 

  • State –led global environmental governance 

  • The impact and effectiveness of global environmental governance 

  • Global economic governance and the environment 

  • Non-state global environmental governance 

  • The global politics of market mechanisms 

  • Case study: climate change and geopolitics, from The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, in 1992 to Paris Agreement in 2017. 

  • Case study: reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, understanding the politics of REDD+ benefit-sharing schemes. 

  • Case study: understanding the role of the EU in the global climate negotiations 


Recommended textbooks:

Kate O’Neal - The environment and international relations. Second edition, Cambridge University Press, 2017 

Readings on topics of in-depth case studies. 


Learning results to be verified

Understanding of the main topics and capacity of personal judgment 

Assessment method

Written and oral examination

Multiple choices 

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