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Your planet needs you: join a new generation of sustainability leaders

In 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that significant measures must be taken before 2030 to prevent the planet warming by more than 1.5 degrees. Global news outlets reported ‘12 years to stop the climate crisis’ but in reality experts warn that action is needed far faster than that.

Written by Allie Fitzgibbon |

A woman in a greenhouse.
Whether you already work in environmental sustainability or are making a career change, there is a flourishing job market for graduates of the programme.

Dr Izabela Delabre explains how our new MSc Global Environment and Sustainability programme aims to develop a cohort of environment and sustainability practitioners and researchers to take on these urgent challenges.

We’re at a really important point in time for environmental sustainability on a global scale. We’re facing multiple crises.

University of London has partnered with Member Institution, Birkbeck, University of London, to develop the brand new MSc in Global Environment and Sustainability. The master’s, which can be studied fully online from anywhere in the world, takes an interdisciplinary approach to the most critical areas of environmental studies – from climate change to biodiversity loss, energy and water resources to food systems and health, and from pollution to waste.

We spoke to Dr Izabela Delabre, Lecturer in Environmental Geography at Birkbeck and Programme Director for the new MSc, about why it’s never been more important to study this field.

“We’re at a really important point in time for environmental sustainability on a global scale. We’re facing multiple crises. There are a number of international frameworks pushing action, including the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity is negotiating a new global framework for the next decade of action on biodiversity. Governments are setting their own zero emissions targets but it is clear we now need practitioners who will be able to think in a holistic way about how to tackle these grand challenges.

“Our programme takes a multidisciplinary approach so that students will understand the complex links between social sciences and natural sciences. They’ll be able to look at what needs to be done at every level – from championing local solutions to supporting businesses to improve their environmental performance and working with policy makers to enable a shift as a society to a more sustainable state.”

We can build a diverse community of practitioners who are able to think about other perspectives and realise there are multiple routes to sustainability.

The new MSc launches just weeks after natural historian and environmentalist, Sir David Attenborough, addressed the G7 summit in the UK. He told politicians that “our scientific collaboration on Covid-19 treatment and vaccines showed just how much we can achieve together when the goal is clear and urgent.”

Dr Delabre believes there is much that should be learned from the global pandemic. “Covid-19 has forced us all to think about our intimate connection with nature. Pressures on land use for agricultural production, habitat destruction, as well as illegal trade in wildlife and climate change all lead to the increased spread of viruses and almost certainly make us more vulnerable to future diseases and pandemics. The conservation of biodiversity is crucial if we are to live in harmony with nature and create a buffer against future crises.”

The programme is open to a broad range of students, whether you have recently completed your undergraduate studies or have been working in the field and want to expand your understanding of theoretical principles. Dr Delabre is particularly excited about the global student cohort.

She said: “We’re welcoming students from all walks of life. It’s really important that we recognise students will be coming from different places and having this diverse group of peers can bring really interesting perspectives. At Birkbeck, we’re looking at how to decolonise the curriculum, incorporate more diverse knowledge and encourage debate. Sustainability itself is a contested concept. With this new programme we can build a diverse community of practitioners who are able to think about other perspectives and realise there are multiple routes to sustainability.”

We’re seeing jobs now that didn’t even exist a few years ago…there’s a lot of exciting energy around environment and sustainability at multiple levels.

The flexible online programme allows you to learn from anywhere and set your own pace, meaning you can study around work and family commitments. While all materials and resources are provided, Dr Delabre emphasised the need to be self-disciplined and take responsibility for your own learning. In return, you may look forward to a vast range of exciting career options. Whether you already work in environmental sustainability or are looking to make a career change, there is a flourishing job market for graduates of the programme.

Dr Delabre explained: “We’re definitely seeing a lot more interest and investment from companies. They want to show they’re taking legal requirements seriously but with increasing consumer scrutiny on environmental impact it’s also important for their reputations – they want to stay ahead of the curve. It’s also a really exciting area for start-ups emerging in this space. Investors are increasingly looking for experts in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. We’re seeing jobs now that didn’t even exist a few years ago – a whole industry has developed to support companies that have made sustainability commitments. There’s a lot of exciting energy around environment and sustainability at multiple levels.”

Find out how you can turn your passion for the environment into a meaningful and in-demand career with the MSc in Global Environment and Sustainability.