Environmental systems and societies updates

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This page contains the latest updates on the Diploma Programme (DP) environmental systems and societies course.

The new DP environmental systems and societies course will be launched in February 2024 for first teaching in August 2024. First assessment will take place in May 2026. 

Below you will find an overview of the course updates. For a technical breakdown of the DP curriculum and assessment methods for this course, read the environmental systems and societies (ESS) subject brief (SL & HL)

Overview of the new course 

Environmental systems and societies (ESS) is an interdisciplinary course that combines a mixture of methodologies, techniques and knowledge associated with both the sciences and individuals and societies. Starting in 2024, it will be offered at both standard level (SL) and higher level (HL).  

ESS is a complex and contemporary course that engages students in the challenges of 21st century environmental issues. It requires students to develop a diverse set of skills, knowledge and understanding from different disciplines. Students develop a scientific approach through explorations of environmental systems. They also acquire understandings and methods from Individuals and societies in social, cultural, economic, political and ethical contexts of sustainability issues.  

The interdisciplinary nature of the course means students produce a synthesis of understanding from the various topics studied. It also emphasizes the ability to perform research and investigations and to participate in philosophical, ethical and pragmatic discussions of the issues involved from the local through to the global level.  

The ESS framework 

The ESS curriculum includes three unifying concepts that are revisited throughout the course: 

  • perspectives
  • systems
  • sustainability.

Perspectives allow students to develop deeper understandings of worldviews and individual perspectives on environmental issues. Systems theory allows students to apply holistic analysis and understand the mechanics and purpose of human constructed systems and the function of natural ones.  The concept of sustainability is also central to ESS. Resource management issues are pivotal to sustainability, and students’ attention is drawn to this throughout the course.    

In addition, the syllabus is organized around seven topics, giving students the understandings required to engage with a wide range of environmental issues. These include additional material, providing HL students more opportunity to understand and address these issues with greater breadth and depth. 

HL students will engage with all SL and HL understandings through three HL-specific lenses:  

  • environmental law 
    environmental and ecological economics 
    environmental ethics.  

This will allow HL students to develop a comprehensive and insightful understanding of environmental issues and the complexities in addressing them.  


Greater emphasis on skill development 

The practical and inquiry-based nature of the subject is emphasized by the inclusion of a skills section at the end of each sub-topic that connects with ‘Skills in the study of environmental systems and societies’, found within the guide. The skills are framed by the approaches to learning skills and categorized into different aspects, including inquiry skills and techniques appropriate at this level of study.  

DP sciences graphic

Experimental programme 

Practical work 

Practical work continues to be a central aspect of the DP ESS course. Teachers are encouraged to develop a practical scheme of work that allows students to gain a deeper understanding of the subject content and associated concepts and that provides opportunities to develop a wide range of skills. The practical scheme of work should be broad and balanced to give students the opportunity to experience a wide range of tasks, from closed to open inquiry, and from hands-on experimentation through to the use of cartographic analysis, surveys and questionnaires.  

Collaborative sciences project  

The collaborative sciences project is an interdisciplinary sciences project that addresses real-world problems using student knowledge from the range of subjects studied across both the sciences group and ESS.  

Through this project students will:  

  • integrate factual, procedural and conceptual knowledge developed through the study of the ESS
  • apply their collective understanding to develop solution-focused strategies that address an environmental issue
  • develop an understanding of how interrelated systems, mechanisms and processes impact a problem
  • evaluate and reflect on the inherent complexity of solving real-world problems
  • develop an understanding of the extent of global interconnectedness between regional, national, and local communities
  • be empowered to become active and engaged citizens of the world
  • gain appreciation of collective action and international cooperation
  • strengthen their approaches to learning skills, including teambuilding, negotiation and leadership.

The collaborative sciences project provides an excellent opportunity for students to work with students taking other DP sciences courses, either in their own school or from other IB World Schools. 

Changes to the assessment model 

External assessment 

The external assessment for SL and HL comprises two papers. Paper 1 comprises a resource booklet that presents data in a variety of forms as they relate to a previously unseen case study and a question paper that contains questions based on the analysis and evaluation of the data. Paper 2 is made up of short answer and data-based questions with an additional section asking structured essay questions.  

The assessment model for HL will be similar with an expanded model that reflects the greater amount of content. Questions will require students to demonstrate additional insights connected with the HL lenses: environmental law, environmental and ecological economics, environmental ethics. 

Internal assessment 

The ‘individual investigation’ (internal assessment) will also see a change, with the opportunity for students to collaborate and support each other within small groups. Where appropriate, students will be able to share similar methodologies, provided that the independent or dependent variable differ, and the qualitative or quantitative data collected is unique to each student.  

An additional criterion has also been introduced requiring students to explore tensions that exist between perspectives. They are asked to describe and explain how these perspectives impact the environmental or societal outcomes of a strategy, addressing an issue central to the student’s investigation. 

Students will continue to submit an individual report with a maximum word count of 3,000 words.