ES/PO 320 - Environment, Energy, and the European City: EU and the Urban Challenges of 2050

In the past 100 years, the world has faced a period of ever increasing and accelerating global warming and climate change. By overwhelming scientific consensus, one of the major drivers of this development is the human use of fossil fuels. Acknowledging this causality, the EU has developed plans to prevent the amplification of climate change and foster sustainable development based on balanced economic growth and environmental protection. Hence, the EU takes a leading role in creating policies to combat the climate crisis, with the European Commission calling for a climate neutral EU by 2050 in its so-called Green New Deal. By the same token, the EU has sought to serve as a model for environmental standards and regulation. This incorporates new approaches to the circular economy, to clean air, to waste and recycling, to water resource use and to the environment as a whole. Two factors play a major role in these plans: The industrial use and production of energy and the city as a concept and living space and urbanization play a particular role in this development, as can be seen as well in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities.

This course aims to examine the interaction between politics and policies related to energy and the environment EU-wide, and their application by municipalities and local governments in the cities of Europe. The focus will be on the relationship between politics and the social and environmental contexts, in other words the lived experiences of the people who dwell in these cities.

What then is a city? To what extent are European cities dependent on their past? To what extent are they heralds of the future? What ideologies and ideas are exhibited in city-planning? In what ways are European cities changing? And in what ways should they be changing? What role does the EU have in shaping these processes? Freiburg, the eco-capital of Germany, is particularly well placed for studying the consequences of EU energy and environmental policies on the European city. And Freiburg can be compared to achievements and failures with regard to energy and environmental policies in other cities, whether in Eastern, Southern or Western Europe, cities which will be visited during the IES organized course-related trips (see explanation below).

This trans-disciplinary course will acquaint the students with the emergence of politics and policies connected to energy, the environment and the city over the past few decades in the countries that now constitute the EU. It will familiarize them with examples of best practice solutions for the city, which may serve as benchmarks for the adjustments faced by 21st century society in the EU and beyond.

Course Information


Environmental Studies
Political Science

Term(s) Offered:




Language of instruction:


Contact Hours:



One previous course in philosophy, history, economics, or politics

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