Since the end of the sixties, environmental problems increasingly rose as an issue on the societal, political and policy agenda. The starting point of the course is that environmental problems are in essence social problems because they have societal causes and consequences and they provoke societal responses; environmental policy is one of these responses. One of the central messages of the course is that there is a continuous struggle on the definition of environmental problems and their solutions. Depending on the framing, particular solution scenarios receive more support than others. We also deal with the different perspectives to look at environmental problems from, on the one hand, a natural science point of view and, on the other hand, a social science perspective.
The course describes the developments in environmental policy, with regard to both content and organization. The leading principles (codification), being the basis of a lot of environmental policies, are being introduced, discussed and illustrated, e.g. the precautionary principle, prevention and 'the polluter pays' principle. Important discourses such as limits to growth, ecological modernization and sustainable development are scrutinized, as well as recent developments to look from a systems perspective to environmental problems (e.g. via transition governance). On the organizational side, attention is paid to: the stepwise institutionalization of strategies and policy instruments in environmental policy; the factors that contribute to the fact that environmental policy, notwithstanding guiding principles and an extensive organizational framework, remains difficult, and a characterization of the multi-actor, multi-level and multi-sector setting in which environmental policy is developed and implemented.
The analysis of environmental policy in this course is done from diverse social scientific perspectives and points of view or combinations between them: sociology and political science, the policy sciences, communication sciences… Inspired by these points of view, three perspectives are put forward to look at environmental policy: the goal-oriented, synoptic perspective, the social interaction perspective and the institutional perspective. An important characteristic of the goal-oriented perspective is the importance of scientific analysis and underpinning of environmental problems and the formulation of targets. The course deals a.o. with the complex relation between science, society and policy, as well as with the importance, forms and do’s and don’ts of environmental planning. Also the role played by the media in framing environmental issues is illustrated by means of concrete examples.
Note: Environmental Law, European environmental policy and Sustainable Development are separate courses at the University of Antwerp. The course Environmental Policy represents three credit points.