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Global Challenges: Sustainability




Admissions requirements



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

We are living in an era of increasing population, urbanization, transportation, technology and consumption while experiencing increasingly fewer fundamental resources for humans like food, water, ores, and traditional forms of energy. On top of that, driven by human activities the Earth is undergoing a period of unprecedented environmental change, which by now accounts for all fundamental Earth systems and resource provision. This change, spanning from local to global scales, is one of the most pressing challenges for humanity, and the planet’s ecosphere as a whole. We will address the following questions in Global Challenge - Sustainability:

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

  • Why is maintaining biodiversity important? Isn’t the availability of water and food just a matter of distribution as there will always be enough to meet demand?

  • How will climate change impact environmental and human systems?

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

  • If we manage water, soil and energy resources in a clever manner, are they not renewable?

  • To address environmental change (including climate change), what decisions need to be taken and how will they impact both our own lives and our planet’s future?

  • Are we (as individuals) responsible? Could our individual decisions collectively make a positive or negative impact?

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

The goals of the course are to provide students with a knowledge of the interdependence of natural biotic and abiotic Earth systems, resource provision and human systems, to introduce key observations of human-related changes of Earth systems and their implications for a sustainable use of environmental resources. Students will learn to:

  • Write in a scientific style

  • Begin the evaluate scientific evidence and provide descriptions of scientific assumptions and their importance

  • Evaluate simple algebraic equations relating to sustainability and environmental impacts

  • Begin to be able to synthesize and present data in intuitive ways

  • Conduct a reasoned, fact-based debate between multiple stakeholders of an environmental and developmental challenge by comparing different viewpoints and contrasting different factual statements.

Students will able to:

  • Describe what characterises ecosystems and biodiversity and specify how human activities impact ecosystem functioning, freshwater resources, air quality, soils, nutrient cycling and organisms including global public health;

  • Understand how we add to the body of scientific knowledge by using the scientific method of reasoning;

  • Describe the causes, evidence, and consequences of global climate change for environmental and human systems (regarding water and food security, global public health);

  • Name trends and implications of energy consumption, fossil fuel use, and renewable energies production as regards maintaining beneficial environmental conditions;

  • Describe and discuss the role of different stakeholders in decision-making processes related to environmental change;

  • Understand how their own behaviour links to environmental change, and which steps can be taken to reduce their impact.


Once available, timetables will be published in the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

We will use a mix of lectures, in-class activities (e.g. stakeholder debate), in-class discussions, demonstrations, and example calculations.
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. A fieldtrip may also be scheduled and this will take place during seminar time.


The course is assessed through the following assignments: two individual assignments, two group assignments (factsheet 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: 10%, deadline: weeks 1-7

Assessment 2: Ecological Footprint
Weight: 20%, deadline: Week 2

Assessment 3: Scientific Paper Analysis
Weight: 20%, deadline: Week 4

Assessment 4: Stakeholder Fact Sheet
Weight: 10%, deadline: Week 5

Assessment 5: Stakeholder Debate
Weight: 10%, deadline: Week 6

Assessment 6: Final Exam
Weight: 30%, Week 8

Please note:

  • In accordance with article 4.8 of the Course and Examination Regulations (OER), within 30 days after the publication of grades, the instructor will provide students the opportunity to inspect their exams/coursework.

  • There is a no re-sit policy at Leiden University College.


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

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.


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact


Dr. Bríd Walsh


There are readings to complete for week 1, and an ungraded assignment is due for Plenary 1 – you will receive information about this in the week before the start of the course.