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Environmental Problems and the Law


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor and tutorOlivia Hamlyn
  • Assessment: a 600-word blog/briefing piece (10%) and 4000-word summative essay (90%)

Module description

This module engages with environmental problems and responses to them. We consider the complexity, dynamism, interconnectedness, polycentricity and, to an extent, the unknowability of environmental problems, the challenge those features pose to protecting the environment and the ways in which law and policy have attempted to respond. We examine key regulatory and governance mechanisms such as licensing, economic instruments, protected area designation and environmental assessment, across a range of environmental sectors, including water, waste, air and nature conservation. We also look at some of the key discourses in environmental law, such as the tension between environmental protection and economic growth and the merits of traditional regulatory approaches and market-based instruments.

Some of the key themes will surface again in the option modules, making this module an important foundation on which you will build specialist knowledge.

Indicative module syllabus

  • Introducing environmental problems: complexity and the law
  • Everything is connected: regulating industrial pollution
  • Damage limitation: natural capital and biodiversity offsetting
  • Water, water everywhere: addressing polycentricity in water governance
  • Air inequality: governing differential impacts
  • Standard disagreement: regulating waste
  • Beyond borders: legal instruments for nature conservation
  • Missing information: environmental impact assessment
  • Scaling up: strategic environmental assessment
  • Enforcing the law: regulators and courts

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • understand and explain the nature of environmental problems
  • understand and critically evaluate different legal, policy and governance approaches to environmental protection
  • apply the theoretical knowledge developed during the module to different environmental problems and frameworks for protecting the environment
  • draw on a wide range of literature to develop a holistic and autonomous understanding of the law relating to environmental protection
  • demonstrate originality in your analysis of environmental problems and environmental law.