17.441 | Fall 2007 | Undergraduate, Graduate

International Politics and Climate Change


Course Meeting Times

Discussions: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


This course examines the interconnections of international politics and climate change. Beginning with an analysis of the strategic and environmental legacies of the 20th Century, it explores the politicization of the natural environment, the role of science in this process, and the gradual shifts in political concerns to incorporate “nature”. Two general thrusts of climate-politics connections are pursued, namely those related to (a) conflict – focusing on threats to security due to environmental dislocations and (b) cooperation – focusing on the politics of international treaties that have contributed to emergent processes for global accord in response to evidence of climate change. The course concludes by addressing the question of: “What Next?”


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Required Texts

Buy at MIT Press Luterbacher, Urs, and Detlef F. Sprinz, eds. International Relations and Global Climate Change. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001. ISBN: 9780262621496.

McNeill, J. R. Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-century World. New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2000. ISBN: 9780393049176.


Other than assignments from the required texts, the instructor provides all readings.


Class discussion of readings 30%
Midterm exam 30%
Written requirement: final or research paper 30%
Web-based assignment 10%

Written Requirement

There are two options for fulfilling the written requirements of the course.

Option 1: Take home final – three required essay questions that cover all aspects of the course. Open books and notes with full references required.

Option 2: Research paper – in four steps:

  1. Submit topic and issues identified in a paragraph – reviewed and approved by instructor
  2. Submit outline – general for sense of coverage – also for approval
  3. Submit tentative bibliography – also for approval
  4. Write roughly 30-40 pages and include references.

Mid-term Exam

Everyone is expected to take the mid-term exam. It is intended to allow the instructor to give you feedback. The mid-term is take-home, open book, and essay questions with choice. If you do well it will be counted for you. If you do not do well, you can retake the exam.


Part I. The context
1 Introduction: systems and complexities

2 The legacies of the 20th century

3 International politics of climate change

4 International relations theory

Part II. The global system
5 The global system – whole and parts

6 Climate change science – core elements

7 Climate – political connections I – illustrative systems Midterm exam due 8 days after Ses #7
8 Climate – political connections II – theoretical perspectives

9 International law and environmental regimes

Part III. International politics of response
10 Global accord – comparative cases I and II

11 What next: highlights and conclusion Web-based assignment due and final exam due 4 days after Ses #11