SUM4200 – Key Issues in Development and Environment

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Course content

The course is based on selected topics within the broad field of development and environment which exemplify the application of different disciplinary approaches. The topics are all of current relevance in relation to the challenge of sustainable development, and lectures are based on ongoing research at SUM. In addition to exemplifying interdisciplinarity, the course explores the complex interplay between local, national and global arenas; the role of different actors - international development organisations, national governments, non-governmental organisations and multi-national corporations; and the interrelationship between research and policy. Apart from two lectures - introduction,  and How to write and refer - the course consists of the following five sections, made up of three lectures and one seminar:

In Energy and Climate we describe the driving forces behind human-made climatic change, and take up theoretical and policy approaches to reducing energy use and climate change emissions. We discuss energy production and consumption in the North and the South, and focus especially on the connections and challenges related to development, environment, energy and gender.

From 2018: In Poverty Reduction and the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, we will examine the current status of international development and critically discuss efforts currently underway to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our focus is on studying the explicit role of institutions, politics and power in shaping and determining action by governments. Towards this end, we will assess the impact of global ideas and values, including those emanating from the foreign aid discourse, on local policymaking in low-income countries. The lectures will also discuss the impact of governance and institutional reforms and the process by which anti-poverty policy is formulated, articulated, legislated, delegated and implemented in middle-income and low-income countries.

From 2018: In Rural Transformations: society and the environment we take our point of departure in actually existing processes of agrarian change to enable the students to use key concepts from agrarian and rural studies to make sense of major global, regional and local trends including land grabbing, corporate power, financialization, the growth of the global informal working class and authoritarian populism. We will focus on three major issues taking place in or connected with rural areas: food and farming, international migration, and extractivism (mining, oil) to discuss how these are shaping class dynamics of agrarian change.

In Communicating Sustainability we study the story of sustainable development and the way it has been conceptualized and communicated up to date. What have been myths and facts of sustainable development? What have been the key obstacles to government communications? We analyze the big companies’ practice of “greenwashing” in order to curry favor with customers. We also imagine potential, mobilizing narratives for sustainable future which would challenge public denial and the fetish of Growth.

In Global Health and Development, we consider the historical origins of international collaboration on health, and trace recent changes to the governance of the same. We review diverse frameworks for studying global health policy, and discuss key texts, in order to highlight the tensions between global health policies designed by international organisations and local social and cultural realities.


2012-2017: In Environmental Governance we address selected environmental issues from a governance perspective, at global, national and/or local levels. We introduce students to issues such as power, participation, knowledge-power and commodification. Case studies are taken from forest governance (PES and REDD+), food systems, and mining.

2012-2017: In Poverty and Development we question the current status of the development agenda and examine why development has eluded large groups of poor. Further, we assess the different modes of development thinking and intervention that characterize the sensational and the invisible factors of poverty, respectively, in lectures that take up food security, malnutrition, and natural disasters.

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Learning outcome

What can you expect to derive from the course?

  • To better understand some of the major challenges of sustainable development, including poverty reduction, attitudes to the environmental and cultural mindsets, global distribution of wealth and resources, access to health, increasing consumption, and the environmental impacts of development;
  • To recognize and critically assess the role of key actors that participate in and influence the directions of global sustainability and development;
  • To analyze global change in a perspective which includes power differentials between North and South, and between different social groups;
  • To identify and discuss the challenges and dilemmas involved when the goal of sustainable development is to be realized in practice;
  • To write and present academic texts, discuss problems in class, and comment on the work of peers.


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

Students enrolled in other Master's Degree Programmes can, on application, be admitted to the course if this is cleared by their own study programme.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.


Formal prerequisite knowledge

The Masters study is directed at students with a background in humanities, social sciences or the natural sciences. The minimum requirement for admission is that the students must have a bachelor’s degree (equivalent at least to a good second class honours degree from a reputable university). Students with a natural science background should have at least half a year's studies within the humantities or social sciences to prepare them for the interdisciplinary challenges this programme offers. Students must also have a good working knowledge of English, and should be able to read and follow lectures in this language as well as writing a school examn in English.


An average of three sessions (lectures or seminars) per week. Instruction and teaching is compulsory.
In autumn 2018, teaching is scheduled from week 33 - 42. 


2017 - : 3 days home exam. In addition, each block will conclude with a one-day online test, which will be graded pass/fail. 

2014 - 2016: Portfolio assessment: Every third week the students are to submit a short paper (4-5 pages excluding references, Times New Roman font size 12 and with 1.5 line spacing), in which they will get feedback on in order to improve the following submission. Throughout the semester, the students are to submit five short papers that together constitute the Portfolio.

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit assignments in Inspera.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

The examination text is given in English, and you submit your response in English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Evaluation Autumn 2012

Facts about this course






Every autumn


Every autumn

Teaching language