Challenges for a Global Energy Transition in a Fossil World

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Challenges for a Global Energy Transition in a Fossil World

  • Host University

    Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

  • Location

    Amsterdam, The Netherlands

  • Area of Study

    Conservation, Environmental Sustainability

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

    Hours & Credits

  • Contact Hours

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    The need for a global transition to a low-carbon energy sector is contested by few, but opinions on what this means in practice and on how to get there vary widely. This course will focus on the societal side of energy transition and the dilemmas that still need to be solved for effective change. 

    Advanced Bachelor/Master

    Global carbon emissions have decreased by nowhere near the margins needed to meet the targets set in the Paris Climate Agreement. In this arena of opposing energy interests vying for prominence, there are still many unresolved questions and dilemmas regarding the future of the energy transition. For example, if carbon markets and technical innovation are promoted by many as textbook solutions, why is worldwide implementation lagging so far behind? If carbon capture and storage are being promoted as a solution for using fossil fuels for long as necessary, how can we prevent a continued fossil fuel lock-in? And if it is correct that developing countries are set to reach similar welfare levels to first-world countries in the years to come, how can the corresponding significant rise in global energy demand be met sustainably? 

    This course will give you a broad overview of global energy transition needs, the key societal dilemmas and possible solutions. It will challenge you to discover your own preferred solutions – as well as their main pros and cons. The course will introduce you to the leading theories, concepts, proposed solutions and current governance efforts in the energy transition. As the Netherlands is the first country to make a conscious decision to leave part of its remaining gas reserves under the ground, national and local solutions will be studied in addition to global solutions. Students will learn more about these solutions through excursions and discussions with experts. 

    The course is taught by staff from the Department for Environmental Policy Analysis (EPA), part of VU Amsterdam’s world-renowned Institute for Environmental Studies. In 2014, EPA was rated the best Dutch research group in environmental economics, sociology and policy. 

    At the end of this course you will: 

    • understand the main concepts and theories in energy transition and be able to put them into the wider context of global sustainable development;
    • know what has been achieved on the road to energy transition so far;
    • have gained an overview of the greatest challenges and proposed solutions for the future of the energy transition;
    • have a clear insight into your own preferred solutions for the energy transition and the main pros and cons of these solutions. 

    Lectures, excursions, discussions, group work, games



    This year’s course is organised completely online. Nevertheless we will organise a variety of virtual excursions to meet key stakeholders in the Dutch energy sector and to discuss current and future developments with them.
    We will visit:

    • The Citizens’ Energy Cooperation ‘Zuiderlicht’ in Amsterdam to discuss bottom-up perspectives on the energy sector.
    • Shell International Laboratories, Amsterdam,  to explore the views of a large international oil company.
    • The Dutch Ministry of Economy and Climate to hear about policy makers’ considerations on the national and international energy transition.
    • The NGO Milieudefensie ( ‘Friends of the Earth’) in Amsterdam, to understand campaigners views on energy transition.

    Bachelor’s students, Master’s students and energy professionals with an interest in energy transition and sustainability, societal transformation and governance.


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