Grand Challenges for Sustainability

Course code:
Period 1
Language of tuition:
School of Business and Economics
dr. G.C. van der Meijden
dr. G.C. van der Meijden
Teaching method(s):
Lecture, Seminar

Course objective

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
• the determinants of economic growth and development;
• why the management of natural resources cannot be left to the free
• 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.

Course content

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
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

Form of tuition

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

Type of assessment

Written exam – Individual assessment
Interim Assignments – Group assessment

Course reading

Sachs, Jeffrey D., The Age of Sustainable Development, 2015, Columbia
University Press, New York.
Collection of articles.

Recommended background knowledge


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