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The International Politics of Climate Change


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

  • Introduction to International Relations and Diplomacy

Recommended course(s):

  • Introduction to Globalisation and Transnational Politics;

  • Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies;

  • International and Regional Organisations;

  • Power in World Politics;

  • Foundational Texts in World Politics


Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing governments in the 21st century. This course provides a comprehensive and critical introduction to international politics and ethics of climate change. It introduces the ethical, political and institutional challenges raised by the global environmental crisis and key political, policy and institutional responses.

The course critically explores different approaches to understanding the climate crisis. We investigate the complex relationship between global governance and climate justice. In doing so, we focus both on normative questions and the empirical issues which make addressing the crisis challenging. In our exploration of the topic, we look at the different roles of states, NGOs, multinational corporations, global governance organizations and social movements in dealing with the climate crisis.

The aim of this course is to provide you with the conceptual tools necessary to understand and contribute to debates about climate change. Upon completing the course, you will be able to interrogate the normative assumptions underlying the policies of states, non-governmental organisations, and the private sector, and have developed a thorough understanding of the political, economic and social factors that contribute to the ongoing climate crisis.

Course Objectives

After completing this module, students will have acquired: 

  • A broad understanding of debates about climate justice and the connection between these debates and recent climate treaty negotiations.

  • Have gained an understanding of the range of perspectives on environmental issues and how environmental issues may be understood as political issues.

  • Knowledge of the most influential competing approaches to understanding the climate crisis and the ability to reason about the normative commitments connected to these approaches.

  • Practical knowledge of how to write a well-structured essay that manages to state a thesis supported by arguments. Practical knowledge about how to engage in multilaterial negotiations about issues of global concern.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Lectures, in-class discussions, student presentations, online assignments.

Students will participate in group discussions and are expected to exchange ideas. The aim of the classes and our discussions is to help us all better understand the arguments/positions we discuss in order to raise important topics for further discussion and develop our analytical skills.

Assessment Method

Assessment takes the following form:

  • End-of-term paper of max. 3000 words (40%)

  • Mid-term paper of max. 1500 words (35%)

  • Class exercise (10%)

  • Individual class preparation exercises (x 5) (Each exercise counts 3%, for a total of 15%)

Reading list

The course readings are listed below. A full list of suggested readings will be available in the syllabus. The weblinks to the required readings will be provided on Brightspace.
Supplemental material will be provided during the course.

  • Dale Jamieson, ‘The Frontiers of Ethics’ in his Reason in a Dark Time (London, Oxford University Press 2014) – selected chapters

  • Paul G. Harris, ‘Cosmopolitan Ethics and Justice’ in his World Ethics and Climate Change (2010 Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press) pp. 99-120

  • Simon Caney, ‘Climate change, human rights and moral thresholds’ in Stephen M. Gardiner et al Climate Ethics: Essential Readings (2010) pp. 69-90

  • Henry M. Shue, ‘Subsistence Emissions and Luxury Emissions’ in Stephen M. Gardiner et al Climate Ethics: Essential Readings (2010) pp. 200-214

  • Stephen M. Gardiner A Perfect Moral Storm (2011) London: Oxford University Press (selected chapters).

  • Ostrom, Elinor. 2010. “Polycentric Systems for Coping with Collective Action and Global Environmental Change.” Global Environmental Change 20(4): 550–57.

  • Derek R. Bell, ‘Environmental Refugees: What Rights? Which Duties?’ (2004) Res Publica 10: 135-152

  • Anne-Marie Slaughter ‘Everyday Global Justice’ (2004) Daedalus 132(1):83-90

  • Manuel Castells ‘Global Justice and Global Governance’ (2005) 38(1):9-16

  • Harrison, Kathryn, and Lisa McIntosh Sundstrom. 2007. “The Comparative Politics of Climate Change.” Global Environmental Politics 7(4): 1–18.

  • Bulkeley, Harriet et al. 2012. “Governing Climate Change Transnationally: Assessing the Evidence from a Database of Sixty Initiatives.” Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 30(4): 591–612.

  • Kyra Bos, Joyeeta Gupta. 2018. “Climate change: the risks of stranded fossil fuel assets and resources to the developing world.” Third World Quarterly 39 (3), 436-453

  • Jinnah, Sikina, Simon Nicholson, and Jane Flegal. 2018. “Toward Legitimate Governance of Solar Geoengineering Research: A Role for Sub-State Actors.” Ethics, Policy & Environment 21(3): 362–81.

  • Holly-Jean Buck. Ending Fossil Fuels London: Verso Books (selection)

We will also engage in a class activity where we model the process of negotiating a climate treaty, use a simulator developed at MIT and UMass (Lowell) called C-ROADS (


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Gerrit Schaafsma,