Can we achieve Net Zero if we are still addicted to Fossil fuels?


Decades after scientists sounded the warning about climate change, humanity has failed to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases. The goal of Net Zero, emphasising that future generations will have to pay to capture and store whatever we currently produce, has certainly focused minds. However, it is a daunting task.

Energy is an essential input into all that we consume and so energy policy has become a hot topic in recent years. Burning wood and peat, then adding coal, oil and gas has historically been the way for humans to generate energy for domestic, transport and industrial uses. Concerns about peak oil and air pollution, but particularly greenhouse gas emissions, require us to switch away from burning to alternative sources of energy.

The need to decarbonise has become more and more urgent, but the progress has been slow. Over 80% of primary energy worldwide is still provided by fossil fuels. However, low carbon energy sources have their downsides.

How should we go about assessing the different energy options? The most obvious answer is to use the tools of energy economics. After all, we want our energy to be cheap and available as well as being environmentally friendly.

Scientists and engineers are working hard to develop alternative technologies. Some are already available, like wind and solar generation, heat pumps and electric vehicles. However, there are costs to switch to a renewable electricity energy system. Everyone would like to continue to pollute while others pay for the transition. This makes climate change a particularly difficult issue—there are international and generational conflicts as well as conflicts within each state as to who should pay more.

On this short course we will consider the question of how to pay for the transition away from a fossil fuel economy. What is the cheapest and fairest way to achieve this aim?

Programme details

Courses starts: 23 Apr 2024

Week 1: Introduction – where does our energy come from?

Week 2: How do we assess the options? Efficiency and equity considerations

Week 3: Policy levers: How would different economic systems deal with climate change?

Week 4: Can’t we just remove the carbon and achieve net zero? Offsetting and Capture

Week 5: Clean energy sources: Nuclear and renewables

Week 6: Dealing with intermittency: demand response and energy storage

Week 7: Electrifying transport and heating. What about other sectors?

Week 8: Energy efficiency: The cheapest energy is the energy you save?

Week 9: Who should pay? Consumers? Polluters? Taxpayers? Future generations?

Week 10: Can’t someone else do it? International and generational conflict

Digital Certification

To complete the course and receive a certificate, you will be required to attend at least 80% of the classes on the course and pass your final assignment. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so.


Description Costs
Course Fee £257.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Doug Bamford

Doug Bamford teaches courses in philosophy and political economy at OUDCE. His main interest is in political philosophy and its application to public policy. He received his PhD in Political Philosophy at the University of Warwick in 2013. He is author of Rethinking Taxation (Searching Finance, 2014) and several papers (including articles in the Journal of Applied Philosophy and Moral Philosophy and Politics). He blogs at Doug Bamford's Tax Appeal.

Course aims

Students should learn to engage with the political economy analysis of the policies aiming to achieve Net Zero.

Course objectives:

  • To introduce students to the Political Economy of climate change.
  • To give students good knowledge and understanding of the controversial economic and political aspects of the transition to a net zero economy.
  • To give students practice in the analysis and critical assessment of policy options relating to the environment and energy.

Teaching methods

Students will be asked to read one or two relevant texts each week before class. Classroom sessions will consist of a mixture of tutor-led learning, small group work and open debate. Students will have the opportunity to submit a formative assignment of 500 words before the final one.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  • explain the key political and economic issues around the transition to a net zero economy;
  • produce arguments for and against different policy options;
  • have gained confidence in expressing ideas in open debate.

Assessment methods

Coursework will consist of:

Either: one essay of 1500 words;

Or: two or three smaller essays totalling this amount.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an enrolment form (Word) or enrolment form (Pdf).

Level and demands

Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)