The Global Environmental Change and Policy course focuses on 4 key questions:

  • What are the nature and causes of global environmental change (GEC)?
  • What do we know and not know about GEC - and why?
  • What are the biological, physico-chemical and human implications of GEC?
  • What can and should be done about mitigating and adapting to GEC?

2014-15 Intake - Project Term Update

 9 students are undertaking internships as part of their thesis term.

Examples include Cameron McKenna, UNFCC (Bonn) and the COP Angola Delegation. 

Further information

Structure and objectives

By addressing those four questions the overall aim of the course is to provide students with a comprehensive and broad understating of the scientific, legal and policy concerns informing the GEC field, and to guide students towards applying independently the necessary tools to address GEC questions analytically and critically. This is done through small group seminars, lectures and case studies arranged into four main strands:

Strand I - Climate Change Science, Environmental and Health Impacts and Adaptation 

This strand explores the analysis and prediction of change in the earth's physical and chemical systems and their impact based on scientific evidence. Sessions include analysis, prediction and impact of changes such as climate change and acidification in the atmosphere, oceans, the water cycle and global land cover and use. In light of the projections of scientific bodies such as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), students become acquainted with different global warming scenarios and their likely impact on water management, vegetation, soil, health and other relevant sectors, and the correlated adaptation policies required in different parts of the globe in order to manage environmental change. It also addresses specific adaptation policies necessary in areas that are most likely to be affected by climate change, such as in Africa.

Strand II – Climate Change Mitigation, Business Strategies and Innovation

This strand focuses on climate change mitigation (non-LULUCF) and related business strategies and the development of technologies in the transition towards a low-carbon economy. A number of green house gas mitigation and alternative energy policies – including renewable energy deployment and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) - are selected for analysis. It examines the social and economic causes of the environmental changes with respect to population, urbanisation, energy policy, and pollution and addresses the policy options to mitigate climate change. It includes a study of international and regional emissions trading schemes (ETS) - with a particular focus on the EU ETS as the world’s largest carbon market – and the role of carbon offsets under the Kyoto Protocol, taking account of alternative policies such as carbon or fuel taxes. In addition, this strand assesses the broader question of quantifying the costs and benefits of mitigation and adaptation in light of the developmental priorities of different regions of the globe, as well as possible business solutions towards low carbon economic growth.

Strand III – Biodiversity, Land Use Change and Forestry, and Conservation Strategies

This strand explores biodiversity loss, conservation strategies, the monitoring and prediction of change in the earth's ecosystems and their response to a range of environmental changes including climate change, and the impact of these changes on humans and the management of natural resources such as fisheries and forests. The different mechanisms proposed or already applied to protect biodiversity in areas of high carbon stocks are thus covered in this part of the course. It assesses mitigation policies applicable to the agricultural sector and the role of land use change in climate change mitigation. In that connection, it looks into the challenges in achieving sustainability in agriculture and to establish relevant criteria for sustainability of biofuels as cleaner sources of energy.

Strand IV – Law and Governance 

The role of international and EU law and policy in developing innovative solutions for global environmental problems, such as climate change, ocean pollution and biodiversity loss, is emphasised. It addresses the law and politics behind the negotiation of a global climate change agreement, the international framework for climate change and environmental governance, as well as the role of compliance and monitoring with climate change commitments.

Learning and teaching

The course structure and individual seminars and activities are designed to enable each student to attain the following:

Understanding of

  • the current state of knowledge about GEC and the uncertainties surrounding it;
  • the similarities and differences between the problems raised by GEC and other environmental problems;
  • the key processes, drivers and interrelationships involved;
  • the principal impacts of GEC on natural and human systems; and the principal ethical, legal and socio-economic issues raised;
  • particular problems faced by developing countries;
  • interregional and regional institutional mechanisms and scientific organisations;
  • the social, economic and environmental objectives for the global environment.

Skills in

  • the analysis of the global dimension of environmental problems, and the extent to which GEC raises distinctive challenges;
  • the location, handling, critical evaluation, interpretation and analysis of GECP information;
  • the application and appraisal of selected analytical techniques;
  • the design and execution of a GEC-related project; communicating clear, unambiguous information, evidence or advice.

Capabilities in

  • applying global perspectives to complex environmental problems; 
  • analysing the key drivers of GEC and their interrelationships;
  • developing independent judgement in relation to GEC-related issues and evidence;
  • participating in the formulation, implementation or evaluation of GEC-related policies;
  • participating effectively in competent consultancy or advisory work.


The lectures are given by Imperial College academics and researchers, as well as guest Lecturers from partner institutions. We also have a series of talks by stakeholders, people who are actively engaged in addressing problems of global environmental change. They come from all sectors of society, including NGOs, government and industry. A number of our guest lecturers are linked to Imperial College’s Grantham Institute who aim to provide students with an insight of the research and work of the Institute.



Understanding, skills and capabilities are developed and assessed through active participation in coursework which comprises

  • Research and presentation, - comprising research for a short paper on a GECP related issue and video presentation of that paper
  • Negotiation and conflict management, - where students prepare, execute and assess their performance within a negotiation to resolve a topical dispute or conflict on behalf of a range of interested actors, states, multinationals, international organisations, community groups and NGOs.
  • Panel Group Exercise – where the students manage and self- and peer-assess the preparation of a joint report on a GECP related issue (see “Panel sessions” window below)

Each element of the coursework has an element of peer and self-assessed work in that students are required to assess their own and their peers’ performance in re search, presentat ion, negotia tion and group work. This is d one by way of a short report on their own and other students’ performance in each task.


Coursework and participation comprise 50% of the final marks: 

- 40% Panel Project (further details available below and in int roduction to course and Lee Green fieldtrip)

- 10% - Negotiation exercise & class participation (further details in introduction to course session, see also "coursework" section above)

50 % - Exam - The final examination comprises the other 50% of the final mark. The final examination involves writing two short reports requiring the critical assessment of scientific and policy material related to GECP. Material may be supplied in advance of the examination.

Panel Sessions

Coursework will be structured through a series of panel meetings, first establishing individual and group mandates by negotiation between the students themselves, which will be adapted in the light of experience and fulfilled in subsequent sessions.

Panel Meetings (comprising approx. 10 sessions) run throughout the option term. The aims of these sessions are to establish and coordinate research, discussion, presentation and negotiation in respect of selected global environmental change issues, leading ultimately to the formal conclusion or agreed policy and scientific statement on one or more aspects of GECP.

The aim is to encourage

  • independent learning,
  • familiarity with the current state of scientific knowledge and legal and policy development,
  • the development of presentation and negotiation skills,
  • an understanding of strategies for achieving consensus solutions to environmental problems through the presentation and negotiation of scientific or policy material.
  • an ability to analyse, synthesise and present scientific, legal and policy material, 
  • an ability to assess the strengths and weaknesses of scientific, legal and policy arguments,
  • to prepare and exercise a strategy for negotiation using this material and a particular policy brief.
  • to contribute effectively to a consensus outcome in group work

Recommended reading

Essential reading:

  • A. Dessler, 'Introduction to Modern Climate Change', (CUP, 2012)
  • D Helm and C Hepburn, ‘The Economics and Politics of Climate Change’ (Oxford, 2010)
  • K. Makuch and R. Pereira (eds.) 'Environmental and Energy Law', (Wiley-Blackwell, Sept 2012)
  • P. Sand and J. Peel, 'Principles of International Environmental Law', (CUP, Third Edition, 2012)