skip to primary navigationskip to content

ESD 450 Policy, Legislation and Government

Leader:            Phil Callaghan

Timing:            Lent Term

Structure:       5 x 3 hour sessions 7, 9, 11, 14, 15  January 2019 (pre Term)



There are few areas of modern life free from government influence.  Yet the ‘corridors of power’ can seem mysterious places that are home to faceless bureaucrats and powerful lobbyists.  Understanding how governments make decisions and how these decisions can be influenced is important skill that is valued by businesses throughout the word.

This module walks you through the corridors of powers and looks at how government, policy and legislation works to deliver sustainable development.  The focus will be on how governments are addressing the key global sustainability challenges, such as climate change, so that the pursuit of economic growth respects ecological limits and ensures social progress.

The historical context of sustainability will be explored from the earliest responses by Victorian society to environmental problems, through to the development of an international consensus around sustainable development and look ahead at the future for sustainable development as the world continues to grapple with today’s economic, environmental and social challenges.

The political context will be examined through international, national and local decision-making processes, and issues, such as climate change, biodiversity loss and waste, will be used to bring these processes to life. The module will provide an overview of United Nations and European Union and United Kingdom decision-making architecture and highlight the role of evidence, stakeholders and metrics.

The module will examine the available policy tools ranging from information to market instruments to regulation.  The development and use of policy appraisal techniques will be considered as well as the provision and use of scientific evidence.


Context: Appreciating the ‘bigger picture’, in particular, how the dominant ‘economic growth’ ideology and consequent power relations impact on the development of policy on sustainability. Ecological limits, past and future population growth and technological development. 

Evidence: The provision and application of knowledge to sustainability problems. The politics of climate change science. Coping with uncertainty and complexity. Accounting for economic, environmental and social dimensions. ‘Limits to Growth’. ‘Millennium Ecosystem Assessment’.

Politics: How the agenda gets set. Government decision-making architecture: international and national dimensions. Power and influence: government, lobbying, stakeholder engagement. Developed and developing country perspectives. The decision-making process (the ‘Policy Circle’).

Responses: Policy instruments and tools. Sustainable Development Goals and Multilateral Environmental Agreements.  Focus on key policy tools: cap and trading regimes; regulations; standards; tax; voluntary agreements; behavioural change.

Metrics: Policy Appraisal. Cost benefit analysis.  Life cycle analysis.  Sustainability indicators. Human Development Index. Gross Domestic Product: strengths and weaknesses. Ecological and carbon footprints. Mass balance. Happiness Index.

Impact: Monitoring and Evaluation; quantitative and qualitative; Tipping Points; Incremental and Systemic change.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Understand of the role and impact of government policies on sustainability.
  • Appreciate the wider policy-making context and understand how to influence policy.
  • Know how to use policy to maximise business opportunities.

 Why someone might find the module useful?

Whatever future professional path students will take will bring them into contact with government policy.  This module will give students an understanding how policy is made and can be influenced is a useful skill valued by businesses; universities and non-governmental organisations.

Why might they find it challenging?

No prior knowledge of politics or policy is required.  Students should be comfortable with the fact that policy inhabits the messy and complex world of politics.  Policy is often designed to address problems that exist where our natural, economic and social worlds collide.  There are no easy or simple answers but students will take away a better understanding of what government does; why is it important and how they can both influence and benefit from public policy.

Assessment:   100% coursework

Indicative ( may vary from year to year) :
1 item:  Provide a ministerial briefing giving impartial, evidence-based advice on a cost-effective policy option 

2500 words


NB: Modules and structure of the MPhil are subject to change year on year. This information is representative of the 18-19 structure but options may not be available in future years.