Skip to content.

UN University OCW

Personal tools
Document Actions
  • Annorate
  • Make a Path
  • Send To Wiki
  • Print this page
  • Send this page to somebody
  • Content View
  • Toggle full screen
  • Add Bookmarklet


Task 1 - Environmental degradation and poverty


Environmental degradation is occurring all over the world. In the developing world, environmental degradation — including the decline of natural resources and ecosystems — has an especially brutal impact on the poor, particularly poor women and children. Current trends reveal the scale and complexity of the challenge ahead:

Land and forests — Land degradation, deforestation and desertification affect the livelihoods of more than one billion people in 100 countries and pose a growing threat to agricultural production and food security.

Water — Water resources are depleted or in insufficient supply. One-third of the world’s people now live in countries where water is in short supply, and lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a major cause of ill-health and life-threatening disease in developing countries.

Biodiversity — Widespread loss of biological diversity is undermining the productive capacity of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. This is reducing the poor’s access to essential environmental goods and services, including vital ecological processes such as water purification, nutrient cycling, control of pollution and soil erosion, and buffers against natural disasters.

Climate change — Projected impacts from global climate change, such as shifting agricultural zones and rising sea levels, are predicted to be most severe in countries of the south and are likely to have disastrous effects on agricultural, pastoral and coastal communities that have little capacity to cope or adapt.

Crises — Environmental degradation exacerbates the frequency and impact of droughts, floods, forest fires and other natural hazards, particularly in ecologically-fragile areas where the poor often live, and can intensify competition and the potential for conflict over access to shared resources such as water. From

Poverty is involved in this as a cause and an effect, leading some people to talk about a downward spiral.

Universalizing conceptions of environmental degradation are increasingly criticized for three main reasons: (a) they often do not match growing evidence for what actually constitutes environmental change in recent years either as a result of human activity or from biophysical processes not related to humans; and (b) the international concerns about environment often do not hold meaning or relevance for poor people in developing countries; and (c) poor people are often able to adopt many local organizational and land management practices which lessen impacts of population growth, environmental degradation or economic change (Forsyth and Leach, 1998).


Lecture 1 Slides - Environmental degradation and poverty


Task 2 - Sustainable development—what’s in a name?


Sustainable development is the watchword for environmentalists, citizen’s movements, and governments alike. Sustainable development is significant because it has captured the imagination of stakeholders representing a wide range of interests and characteristics, from the weak to the powerful. Many definitions of sustainable development are around, ecological ones and broader ones. How to think about sustainable development? Is there one best way?


  Lecture 2 Sildes - Sustainable development—what’s in a name?


Task 3 - Innovation for sustainable development
Sustainable development requires innovation at all levels: in institutional frameworks, policy, actor networks and physical infrastructures and artefacts. In this task the focus will be on innovation in technology, which means that the focus is on knowledge. We will see that innovation is many things. A common analytical distinction is the distinction
between incremental innovation, radical innovation and system innovation.


System innovation consists of a fundamental change in a functional system such as the energy system or food production system. This usually involves a cluster of innovations. A system innovation of our time is the internet. A green system innovation is industrial ecology.


There is also a special class of innovations called environmental technologies, defined in the EU Environmental Technologies Action Plan as technologies and processes to manage pollution (e.g. air pollution control, waste management), less polluting and less resource-intensive products and services and ways to manage resources more efficiently (e.g. water supply, energy-saving technologies). Thus defined, they pervade all economic activities and sectors, where they often cut costs and improve competitiveness by reducing energy and resource consumption, and so creating fewer emissions and less waste. These potential benefits can also be of great importance for developing countries. With sufficient technology transfer they can provide these countries with affordable solutions for reconciling their desire for strong economic growth with the need to do so without increasing the pressure on the local, or the global, environment (ETAP, 2004). Environmental technologies maybe narrowly defined as those technologies whose express aim is to avoid or reduce environmental burden or more broadly defined as those technologies that are more environmentally advantageous than their counterparts. An alternative term to environmental technology is green technology. Sometimes ecoinnovation is used as a synonym.

In this task we examine different attempts at conceptualising technological change with attention to issues of measurement and analysis. We will also explore the topic of appropriate technology for developing countries.


Lecture 3 Slides - Innovation for sustainable development


Task 4 - Environmental management and innovation strategies


Developing countries are increasingly involved in pollution control and environmental management. The common response is to go for end-of-pipe solutions rather than for cleaner production. This begs the question how companies and communities can be encouraged to take the route of cleaner production.



Task 5 - Societal transformations
Sustainability benefits may be secured through sociotechnical ransformations involving system innovation. An important question for policy is whether sustainability transformations can be identified and implemented. What capacities and circumstances are needed for transformations to occur? Is the capacity for transformation in developing countries less than it is in developed countries? If so, what are the reasons for this? Is this because of the lack of markets (which causes agents to adapt) or the lack of certain capabilities?



Task 6 - Institutions

Development is about institutional change and is heavily shaped by institutions. Institutions are recursively involved in change processes. In this task we will examine different institutional approaches towards development. We will see that institutional theory attends to the deeper and more resilient aspects of social structure. It considers the processes by which structures, including schemas, rules, norms, and routines, become established as authoritative guidelines for social behavior. It inquires into how these elements are created, diffused, adopted, and adapted over space and time; and how they fall into decline and disuse.


Lecture 6 Slides - Institutions


Task 7 - Governance for sustainable development
Governance and sustainable development are children of similar history and parentage. They emerged in the late 1980s, with shared characteristics and overlapping potential. By the mid 1990s they were common terms in popular and professional discourse, along with renewed interest in the role of institutions in societal change. In the last 10 years they got linked. It is being argued that sustainable development requires new forms of governance: more open and oriented towards innovation, with adaptive policies guided by visions of sustainability. This has been worked out in the models of reflexive governance and adaptive management. Attention will be given to the model of transition management that is used in the Netherlands to “manage” transitions towards more sustainable systems of energy, mobility and agriculture. Transition management consists of a deliberate attempt to work towards a transition into what is generally believed a more sustainable direction, using visions, experiments and dynamic portfolios. The basic steering philosophy is that of modulation, not dictatorship or planning-and-control. Transition management joins in with ongoing dynamics and builds on bottom-up initiatives in a strategic manner.


Lecture 7 Slides - Governance for sustainable development


Task 8 - Policy instruments to deal with environmental degradation
Countries have developed different institutional ways of dealing with environmental problems. Differences in institutional responses have consequences for technology choices to achieve compliance. Market-based instruments are increasingly used in developed countries. They are also advocated to developing countries but most countries
lack the infrastructure and expertise to implement the market-based strategies being recommended by the international development bank. It means that there is a wider institutional issue around the use of policy instruments.


  Lecture 8 Slides - Policy instruments to deal with environmental degradation


Task 9 - Capacity development for innovation
Agricultural biotechnology holds great potential for developing countries. It is a system innovation whose use and development depends on new capacities to be created. There are divergent views on what capacity development might mean in relation to agricultural biotechnology. The core of the debate is whether this should involve the development of human capital and research infrastructure, or whether it should encompass a wider range of activities that also include developing the capacity to use knowledge productively. Innovation capacity is said to be more important than science and technology capacity. We will examine two approaches for creating capacity: the innovation systems model and the model of strategic niche management.


Lecture 9 Slides - Capacity development for innovation


Task 10. Research methods
Research results critically depend on the theoretical perspective that is being used, the research methods applied and the choice of explanatory variables. Within social science we have four perspectives (theoretical paradigms): the rational choice perspective, actor network theory, social construction and institutional theory. Each of the perspectives makes different ontological assumptions about the world such as that actors are relatively autonomous and act rational, that actors are part of actors networks that determine what actors can and will do, that meaning and cognition are critical variates for human choice and behaviour and finally that behaviour is strongly shaped by rules (logic of appropriateness). The different perspectives highlight different aspects. How to combine different theoretical perspectives? How to combine qualitative and quantitative methods? The above questions and four social science paradigms will be examined against broader questions such as: what is science, what is truth, how can truth be ascertained? Is science truth-seeking?


  Lecture 10 Slides - Research methods




Copyright 2013, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource. Lectures. (2007, December 07). Retrieved October 28, 2013, from UN University OCW Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Creative Commons License