Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Climate Solutions Lab

Government 368 International Environmental Politics

Georgetown University

Political Science,Other


Andrew Bennett

Undergraduate seminar

Documentary Video / Films

Environmental issues are a “perfect storm” of challenges for governance: they involve market failures (externalities, public goods, common pool resources); require coordinated action on local, state, federal, and transnational and international scales; involve complex scientific, economic, and social issues and uncertainties; engage the core economic interests of self-interested groups; emerge on time scales in which near term actions can have consequences for hundreds or even thousands of years; evoke competing ethical or moral claims; and involve personal choices by and also affect the livelihoods and quality of life of every person on the planet.  Climate change has garnered much of the attention on the environmental agenda, but other problems include air pollution (particulates, toxins), water pollution and shortages, ozone depletion, overfishing, deforestation, biodiversity loss, habitat loss, and plastics and other wastes and toxins on land and in the oceans.


International negotiations have had some successes in addressing these problems, particularly on protecting the ozone layer, but on others (particularly climate change) negotiations have not yet resulted in policy changes that scientists judge to be sufficient to prevent major damage to the global environment and human society.  At the same time, rapid improvements in the science, technology, and economics of energy and the climate are creating opportunities to markedly reduce the possible future damage done by greenhouse gases and other pollutants, and to do so at modest economic costs, provided that political institutions can adapt to take advantage of these opportunities.


While this is not a course in climate science or environmental economics, we begin with a brief discussion of these topics as important background for understanding environmental politics and possible futures.  We will then explore the role of path dependent politics on energy transitions, environmental and energy politics in the US (public opinion, framing, agenda-setting, fossil fuel and environmental groups and lobbying, federal, state, and local institutions and environmental politics), environmental politics in countries and groups of countries outside the US, international environmental negotiations and institutions, the politics of environmental problems other than climate change, the resource curse,  and environmental problems and international and civil conflict.