Grand Challenges for Sustainability

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Grand Challenges for Sustainability

  • Host University

    Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

  • Location

    Amsterdam, The Netherlands

  • Area of Study

    Environmental Sustainability

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • ECTS Credits

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

    Academic skills / Knowledge

    • the biophysics behind global environmental problems such as climate change and biodiversity loss;
    • the importance of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (as agreed upon in 2012 by the UN General Assembly) for achieving sustainable development;
    • the determinants of economic growth and development;
    • why the management of natural resources cannot be left to the free market;
    • the role of good governance, both by governments and multinational firms, for achieving sustainable development;
    • whether the government can, and, if so, how the government should intervene to obtain sustainable development and how to combat poverty, climate change, biodiversity loss, and resource depletion;
    • the role of cities, in which more than half of the world population currently lives, for achieving sustainable development

    Research skills / Quantitative skills
    After successfully completing this course, you are able to explain:

    • will be acquainted with theoretical and empirical methods necessary to study economic growth, the effects of market failures, the optimal management of natural resources, the potentially adverse effects of resource abundance, and the effects of different policy interventions

    Bridging theory and practice

    • you can explain how the management of renewable natural resources, such as fisheries, works in practice (through the experiences you have gained from a game you have played an interactive in-class setting)

    Social skills After successfully completing this course, you able to

    • present and actively discuss themes relevant to this course

    Broadening your horizon
    After successfully completing this course, you able to explain

    • the interactions of the world economy, global society, and the natural environment that are important for sustainable development;
    • why sustainable development calls for socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth.

    Sustainable development is the central challenge of our days. Currently, the Earth is inhabited by 7.2 billion people (9 times more than at the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century) who together produce more than 90 billion US dollars of output (200 times more than at the start of the Industrial Revolution). Both population and output are projected to keep on growing during the next decades. Furthermore, our world is increasingly interconnected through trade, migration, technology diffusion, knowledge flows, and social networks. As a result, human influence on the Earth’s physical processes has been increasing. Nowadays, in the Anthropocene, human activity is even deemed to be the dominant influence on the Earth’s climate and natural environment. Although two decades of economic development have brought widespread prosperity, more than a billion people are still living in extreme poverty. Moreover, by crossing planetary boundaries human activities may plunge the world into a gigantic environmental crisis caused by climate change and biodiversity loss. In order to eradicate poverty and to prevent environmental catastrophes, a transition needs to me made from the business as usual (BAU) to a sustainable development (SD) path. Making this transition requires good governance, not only by governments, but also by citizens and businesses. The objective of this course is to characterize a path of sustainable development and to identify the Grand Challenges that the world faces in making the transition from BAU to the SD path.

    The course is organized around the Sustainable Development Goals as adopted by the UN in 2015. The first week will start with a general introduction that sketches several important sustainability issues, illustrated by empirical evidence. During the course, we pay attention to the scientific as well as to the economic and societal dimensions of the identified challenges for sustainability. Furthermore, both the positive or analytical side (i.e., how to make sense of the interactions of the economy, society and the environment?) and the normative or ethical side (i.e., what should be the objectives of a well-functioning society?) of sustainable development will be discussed during the course.

    The topics that will be dealt with during the course are:
    1. Growth and development: capital accumulation and technological change;
    2. Ending global poverty, education, and health;
    3. Management of natural resources and planetary boundaries;
    4. Climate change: climate science and environmental policies;
    5. Biodiversity and land-use change;
    6. Global governance and resilient cities.

    Lectures (with interactive elements)
    Tutorials (including presentation and discussion sessions)
    MOOC (to prepare at home for the lectures and tutorials)

    Written exam – Individual assessment Interim Assignments – Group assessment


Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

Some courses may require additional fees.


This site uses cookies to store information on your computer. Some are essential to make our site work; others help us improve the user experience. By using the site, you consent to the placement of these cookies.

Read our Privacy Policy to learn more.