70049 - Global Environmental Challenges

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

The aim of the course is an understanding of the major sustainability issues the world is currently facing: overharvesting of renewable resources, biodiversity loss, and, above all, global climate change. By the end of the course, we expect students to comprehend these issues with respect to their scientific basis, economic incentives, and management policies.

Course contents

Humans have become a force of nature reshaping environmental processes on a planetary scale. This course identifies and describes some ecological issues that poses a challenge for sustainability. It studies their interconnection with economic and political processes. The program builds around three topics: local and global commons, biodiversity, and climate change.

The course objective is to provide the tools to understand some ecological challenges at the global level regarding the economy and politics of this generation. Other relevant environmental issues are excluded from the course, such as energy topics, methods for cost-benefit assessments, pollution from toxic chemicals.

-------------------------------------------------- -
1. Overview of the course
Ecological processes that currently represent a challenge for planetary sustainability. The historical case of the societal collapse of Easter Island.

-------------------------------------------------- -
Part One: Global climate change
2. Introduction to climate change
Scientific basis of this phenomenon and possible impacts on the Earth system. IPCC.

3. Economic and social impacts of climate change
Considerations on some determinants of the economic and social costs: direct damage to health, food security, political instability/conflicts and migration.

4. A social dilemma of global dimension
What is an externality. Public good (bad) model. Participation in an international treaty and trade leakage. Illustration by the treaties for the protection of whales, Kyoto and Montreal. Climate Clubs.

5. The shadow of the future
The very long-term horizon of climate change. How much patience do we have today to invest for a better future? One of the most important parameters to decide on environmental issues is to figure out how much to weigh the future impacts. Economists compare present and future impacts through the discount rate. Intergenerational equity. Ramsey formula. Weitzman position on discounting.

6. Irreversibility and uncertainties
Climate change presents aspects of irreversibility: static and dynamic externalities, Carbon budget, committed changes. Uncertainty: climate sensitivity, geographical distribution of impacts, disasters triggered when a threshold is passed.

7. Mitigation via a mechanisms for pricing greenhouse gas
How to achieve the objective IPCC to maintain the temperature rise within 2^C? Regulations of a command-and-control type vs. carbon pricing. Comparison between a tax and a tradable permits market. Instruments in the Kyoto Treaty.

8. Adaptation and geoengineering solutions

-------------------------------------------------- -
Part Two: Renewable resources and biodiversity
-------------------------------------------------- -
9. The dynamics of a renewable resource
What are the biological laws of a renewable resource? The fishing areas illustrate these dynamics. Threshold effects that trigger the collapse of the resource.

10. Partial exam

11. The tragedy of the commons
The economy of the collective property resources: individual incentives and socially optimal use.

12. Economic instruments for the management of the commons
Property rights, taxes to correct distortions, and tradable permits.

13. The community management of forests and pastures in the Italian Middle Ages
Illustration of a case study of community forest management.

14. The complexity of an ecosystem
When many species interacts, the dynamics can become complex as described in "predator-prey" models.

15. How can a society collapse
We now have the tools to understand the historical case of Easter Island.

16. Loss of biodiversity
Mass extinction of living species at the planetary level. Ecosystem Services.


Lectures and readings will be in English. The textbook is William Nordhaus (2013) The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World, Yale University Press

Other readings will be made available on the AMS campus site: some are required while others only recommended. The site will be updated continuously and it is recommended to check weekly.

Teaching methods

Lectures with slides presentation

Student presentations

Assessment methods

The final grade is calculated as the average of three components:

1) Midterm (2-8)
2) Group project
3) Final written exam (1, 9, 11-16)

The group project will focus on a topic or case study taken from a list drawn up by the instructor. Each group will prepare a brief memo and an in-class Powerpoint presentation. The project is intended as an active exercise that may require the direct collection of data and their processing. The formation of the groups and the choice of subject will be made by the instructor taking into account the students' preferences. The group will include between two and five people, depending on number of students.

Teaching tools

Slide presentations


Office hours

See the website of Marco Casari