Sustainability and Climate

This Sustainability and Climate course was developed in 2020 for students at the University of Cambridge (UK) and University of Beihang (China) as an on-line supplement to their learning during the COVID 19 pandemic, with the Beihang connection provided by the Cambridge Eastern Education and Development Society. It consists of 8 modules organised around the topic of sustainable development and climate change analysis/policy. The complete package consists of the 8 narrated Powerpoint files you will find here, a reading for each lecture, and a live on-line lecture (not provided on this site) to expand the topic. All of these materials are based on courses taught by Dr Crawford-Brown when he was a Professor at the University of Cambridge.


The course explores the relationship between the built environment, economic activity, land development and sustainability policy, using both quantitative and qualitative methods to assess the impact of policies on sustainability and climate change. A key aspect of the course is learning how to perform assessments – including through the use of environmental models – in identifying, assessing and selecting policies while allowing for economic development. Consideration is given to the role of land and its vegetation in climate change, the energy and carbon performance of the built environment, the carbon cycle in the environment, the macroeconomics of sustainable development, and selection of policy instruments. A significant focus is on the scientific and social science basis for sustainability and climate policies, to foster both understanding of the underlying evidence base and application of science and engineering to the assessment of impacts of policies.

These topics are explored in 8 distinct and potentially stand-alone presentations or modules. Suggested readings are provided for each the modules. In addition, a narrated Powerpoint file for each module can be downloaded here so students can prepare for the on-line lecture and return to the material later for clarity.


Module 1: Understanding climate change science and policy. Principles of environmental and ecological analysis, including quantitative environmental and integrated assessment models. We will develop a framework for linking issues of climate change, how human society and patterns of land settlement influence natural processes underlying climate change, the uncertainties in climate risks and policy effectiveness and the range of policy, strategy and action plan options. Download the narrated PPT file HERE and the reading HERE.

Module 2: The meaning of sustainability and the role of cleantech. We will consider a range of factors concerning sustainability: understand the meaning of sustainability; identify the components of our lives that influence sustainability; relate sustainability to material and energy cycles in the environment; develop the tools to quantify sustainability; consider how sustainability assessment can be used in decisions; identify some of the trade-offs that attend sustainability. This module also provides the theoretical basis for the other modules in this series. Download the narrated PPT file HERE and the reading HERE (this is the Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations) website; students should explore all 17 of the SDGs, although we will discuss only a few in the lecture).

Module 3: Carbon footprints and reduction for individuals, communities and organisations. We will develop principles to address the following issues, using climate change as an example of sustainability practice: understand the components of a carbon footprint; quantify the carbon footprint at the level of individuals and organisations; quantify the carbon footprint of communities; assess categories of carbon reduction and the reasons for choosing a particular category as a focus for sustainability efforts; calculate the effects of changes on the community carbon footprint. Download the narrated PPT file HERE and the reading HERE.

Module 4: Multi-criteria analysis for development decisions. We will develop a semi-quantitative model of MCA, discuss options for how the judgments needed in MCA are provided, and consider the strengths and weaknesses of MCA as a decision support tool for climate policy. Download the narrated PPT file HERE and the reading HERE (especially chapters 2 and 4).

Module 5: Consumer-based policies. We will examine the role of consumers in stimulating carbon dioxide emissions in the macroeconomy and the relative effectiveness of consumer-based policies as a complement to production-based policies. Download the narrated PPT file HERE and the reading HERE (this is the website for the EU Carbon CAP project; students should explore that website for a broad overview of the topic, looking gespecially at the Policy Briefs on the Information Centre part of the website).

Module 6: Climate change adaptation. We will examine the potential impacts of climate change, relating change in the natural system to potential effects on people and society. This will be followed by considering where resources can be most effectively directed to reduce climate risks across the economy, using input-output analysis. Download the narrated PPT file HERE and the reading HERE (This is the website for the ToPDAd project of the EU. Look through the site, and read the three Policy Briefings which you will find by using the More About the Project link).

Module 7: Macroeconomics and environmental impacts. We will examine the roles of production, consumption and international trade on carbon emissions and biodiversity loss using the tools of input-output analysis. We will use these tools to quantify the contributions of sectors of the national economy to environmental impacts, and the relative roles of different nations in global biodiversity loss. Download the narrated PPT file HERE and the reading HERE (this is Chapter 4 of the book Decarbonising the World's Economy, edited by Barker and Crawford-Brown, Imperial College Press, 2015).

Module 8: Co-benefits of climate policy. We will examine the co-benefits for human health when climate policies simultaneously reduce carbon dioxide and emissions of other pollutants. We will consider the implications for cost-benefit narratives on climate policy, and explore the conditions under which climate policy can be expected (and not expected) to yield these co-benefits. Download the narrated PPT file HERE and the reading HERE.

The Project

The project for this course is completed by each student individually. They are free to talk amongst themselves, but each student must provide an independent project report showing all calculations.

In Module 3, you were provided an EXCEL model of your carbon footprint. You can download that HERE. You will use that model for this project. I want you first to calculate your current carbon footprint (only your footprint, not that of your family, community etc). Fill in all of the necessary cells of the model using data specific to your life and the energy system in your community. If you do not have the necessary data (such as carbon intensity of the electricity grid), use the national average for your country. Be sure to explain where you obtained the data.

Then, describe what you will do in your life to reduce your personal carbon footprint to below 2 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Produce a second version of the EXCEL model with these changes to show that you will achieve this target of 2 tonnes. Explain the specific actions you will take for each of the components of that footprint. For each of these, explain whether these actions affect Scope 1, Scope 2 or Scope 3 emissions. And for each action, give a brief description of a policy that would motivate you to take that action. Your final report should then consist of the two EXCEL models and a paper of not more than 1500 words in English.

If you have questions concerning any of this material, contact Professor Crawford-Brown at