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Unit information: Environmental policy and social justice in 2018/19

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Unit name Environmental policy and social justice
Unit code SPOLM0041
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Bell
Open unit status Not open




School/department School for Policy Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This unit examines the intersection of environmental issues, social justice, and public policy. As evidence mounts that the climate crisis has been caused by humans, there has been a gradual but growing acceptance among national governments, supra-national organisations, and the general public of the need for more environmentally harmonious societies. At the same time, traditional development paths have come under question in the context of the continuing failure to meet a number of basic human needs. Additionally, many of the challenges posed by environmental risks relate to inequalities within societies between rich and poor, and also between societies between the global North and South.

This unit will help students to integrate thinking about social and environmental issues by exploring foundational concepts, values and perspectives as well as implications for policy. It explores topics such as the particular characteristics of environmental issues that face policy-makers in making environmental policy, and the nature of environmental goods that impact on behaviour relating to them. It will also make use of increased awareness of ethical issues relating to environmental sustainability and social well-being from a global perspective, exploring matters of social and environmental injustice and issues such as citizenship and human need. It therefore combines both ‘social policy’ and ‘public policy’ approaches to the environment.

The unit aims are:

  • to examine the nature of environmental issues that are relevant to policy-making, and their policy responses;
  • to consider the intersection of poverty, social justice, and environmental issues;
  • to explore relevant conceptual, ethical, and political economy frameworks pertaining to the environment.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, students will be able to:

  • understand the significance of the environment in social and public policy generally, and social and environmental justice in particular;
  • critically analyse the ways in which the environment interlocks with matters such as inequality, race, and class;
  • interpret the environment and climate crisis via a variety of theoretical perspectives.

Teaching details

Interactive lectures, group discussions and exercises.

Assessment Details

4,000 word written assignment which tests the learning outcomes of the unit.

Reading and References

Bell, K. 2015.Can the Capitalist Economic System Deliver Environmental Justice?’ Environmental Research Letters 10 (12): 1-8

Bell, K. 2014. Achieving Environmental Justice: A cross-national analysis. Bristol: Policy Press.

Detraz, N. 2016. Gender and the Environment. Cambridge: Polity Press

Fitzpatrick, T. 2014. International Handbook on Social Policy & the Environment. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar

Fitzpatrick, T. (ed.) 2011. Understanding the Environment and Social Policy. Bristol: The Policy Press

Gough, I. 2017. Heat, Need and Human Greed. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar

Snell, C. and Haq, G. 2014. The short guide to environmental policy. Bristol: The Policy Press