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Global Challenges: Sustainability


Admission requirements

Required course(s):



Global Challenges (GCs) are major problems confronting humanity and the planet. GCs cannot be singularly solved by one nation, organization, or approach. Addressing GCs requires sustained multi- and inter-disciplinary critical scholarly reflection and collaboration among academics, the public, governmental, and non-governmental organizations to develop deeper understandings of the problems we face and ethical and effective responses.

We are living in an era of unprecedented environmental change which is driven by an increase in our population and prosperity, but also increases in urbanization, transportation, and consumption. As a result, we see loss of biodiversity, climate change, overuse of freshwater resources, loss of fertile topsoil. All of these are affecting fundamental ecosystem processes, causing change, spanning from local to global scales. In addition, there are increased pressures on fundamental resources, including food, water, metals, and traditional forms of energy.

In Global Challenges: Sustainability we will focus on these challenges and address questions such as:

  • How do human activities like deforestation, agriculture, pollution, resource exploitation, and urbanization alter and transform environmental Earth systems?

  • Why are the rapid loss of biodiversity and fertile topsoil threats to the overall well-being of the planet, including our own health and long-term survival as a species?

  • How is climate change impacting environmental and human systems, and what is predicted to happen in the (near) future?

  • How is human well-being and global public health being affected by environmental change?

  • What solutions are available to enhance the sustainability of our lives, cities, and countries?

  • Are we (as individuals) responsible for the health of our planet? Could our individual decisions make a positive or negative impact? And how can we stimulate collective change?

This course introduces students to environmental issues that relate to both the functioning of the (once) natural environment and the current societal demands, with a special focus on food sustainability. By using examples from around the planet, this course highlights key problems and their underlying causes, along with the human actions that made them an issue, and our related struggle for solutions.

Course Objectives

After completion of this course students are able to:


  • Describe key challenges related to environmental sustainability, including pollution, biodiversity loss, loss of topsoil and freshwater resources and climate change

  • Link these challenges to concepts in effective governance and impacts on global public health

  • Understand which steps can be taken to reduce the impacts we have on the planet


  • Synthesize and present data in intuitive ways using figures and tables

  • Analyse a scientific article to identify the key information

  • Develop a factsheet on a topic related to sustainability based on key information from peer-reviewed publications

  • Conduct a reasoned, fact-based debate between multiple stakeholders by comparing different viewpoints and contrasting different factual statements


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

Mode of instruction

We will use a mix of lectures, in-class activities (e.g., stakeholder debate), in-class discussions, demonstrations, example calculations, and out-of-class activities (i. e. local actions).

The course is organized around plenary lectures and seminar sessions. Each week starts with a plenary session (Monday) followed by a seminar session in small groups (sections). The seminars concentrate on more detailed analyses and in-class discussions of topics covered in the plenary session. Also, as the plenary session is taught in an open-lecture format students are expected to contribute to the instructor’s presentation when appropriate. To assure best participation students are required to cover readings before coming to both the plenaries and the seminars.

Attendance is required at all plenary lectures and all class sessions.

Assessment Method

The course is assessed through the following assignments: two individual assignments, two group assignments (fact sheet and debate), and a final exam. In-class participation will also be part of the final grade. Every (part of a) day late for handing in assignments will result in a deduction of 2/3 of a letter grade for that assignment (e.g., B+ (on time) to B- (one day late) to C (2 days late) etc.

Students must complete all assignments and exams at a reasonable level (which is determined by the instructor). Unless there are extenuating circumstances, not finishing an assessment component will automatically results in an F for the whole course.

  • Assessment 1: In-class participation
    Weight: 15%, deadline: Weeks 1-7

  • Assessment 2: Presenting scientific information
    Weight: 25%, deadline: Week 3

  • Assessment 3: Fact Sheet
    Weight: 17.5%, deadline: Week 5

  • Assessment 4: Stakeholder Debate
    Weight: 17.5%, deadline: Week 6

  • Assessment 5: Final Exam
    Weight: 25%, Week 8

Reading list

Please purchase the following book for the course:

Behrens, P., Bosker, T. and Ehrhardt, D. 2019. Food and Sustainability. Oxford University Press. Oxford, UK. ISBN: 9780198814375

This will be our primary text for the course. Please note that all profits from the sale of this book will go to the LUC scholarship programme.


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,


Dr. Marco Cinelli,


There could be readings to complete and videos to watch before the plenary lectures – you will receive information about this in the week before the start of the course.