THE last-minute compromise at the Durban climate change conference in December brought the role of Asia in reducing greenhouse gases sharply into focus. By 2020 China is expected to produce quarter of the world’s emissions. Factor in India and the other burgeoning economies in the region, and the need for decisive climate change action in Asia becomes abundantly clear.

Every year, thousands of Asian students are graduating from high quality environment programs at top universities around the world. The value of these qualifications cannot be overstated as they equip graduates with the knowledge and tools they need to secure employment and make a very real difference in promoting sustainability and protecting the environment.

Jacobs University

Pic: Jacobs University.

Asia is fast shaping up as a major theater in the tug of war between proponents of the reduction of carbon emissions and advocates of feeding the growing demands of fast-emerging economies. There is no denying that Asia’s sustainability issues are intrinsic to development. But left unchecked, they can present serious long-term problems for local ecosystems and the people who derive their livelihood from them.

Asia consumes more than one third of the world’s energy but accounts for almost 60 percent of its population – a population that is catching up fast in terms of personal wealth and, inevitably, per capita energy consumption. China alone already accounts for 47 percent of global coal consumption, which has become a strategic component of its rapid economic growth.

Even efforts to promote renewable energy are coming under fire in a continent where the squeeze on resources is being keenly felt. Hydroelectric dam projects across Asia are displacing millions and causing friction between governments.

While the Durban climate deal represents real progress, legally binding emissions targets will not be put in place until 2020 at the earliest.

According to New Scientist’s Fred Pearce, “The conference agreed that by 2015 governments would finalize a ‘protocol, legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force’ that would impose targets on all major emitters, rich and poor. It will probably enter into force by 2020, when existing voluntary targets end, though that is not part of the official deal.”

In the meantime, it is up to Asia’s governments and people to address the region’s sustainability issues. Many students in Asia are already taking notice and seeking out advanced degrees in environmental studies in the hope of reversing the damage. Not surprisingly, the choice of environment schools and programs is almost endless, as are the employment opportunities.

Environment programs in universities around the world play a key role to play in reversing the trends of environmental degradation. Faculty and students are rising to the challenge by coming together in dynamic programs that integrate sustainability into all aspects of their curriculums, from business and policy management to on-the-ground efforts in disaster relief and habitat protection.

University of West Alabama

Pic: University of West Alabama.

As universities are starting to invest more in environmental awareness and sustainability programs, the teaching methods applied and the research conducted within these programs become of vital importance – often discovering key findings to address and resolve today’s environmental issues. Many of the biggest breakthroughs are taking place at university research centers.

With the choice of environment and sustainability-related university programs as multifaceted as the issues themselves, it is difficult to give specific advice on choosing the right environment program. However, the general rules do apply. Once you have chosen your path, look for a university with a high pedigree, a good faculty and an established reputation for producing successful graduates in your field.

Prospective students should also look for courses that are not just limited to theory, but emphasize practical learning too. Real-world experience is essential, and it gives graduates a competitive edge when they are ready to enter the workforce.

As the world moves towards delivering on the targets set out at the Durban climate change conference, employment opportunities for environment graduates are set to increase significantly. In areas as diverse as environment law, planning, technology and business, candidates with awareness of environment and sustainability problems, and the knowledge and skills to solve them, will be the first in line for the top jobs.

Vermont Law School

Pic: Vermont Law School.

That environment and climate change will be a major issue and factor for China, India and the rest of Asia is now a given fact. By enrolling in environment programs, Asian students can meet the challenges head on; not only during the course of their studies, but throughout their careers.

Below we profile 15 leading environment programs for Asian students…

JACOBS UNIVERSITY
Jacobs University is an ideal place to pursue an earth sciences degree. It is located in Germany, at the crossroads of Europe and roughly halfway between major cities in East Asia and North America. The school itself is relatively small, yet the student body is a composite of more than 100 nationalities. Instruction is in English and combines with field- and lab-based research to deliver one of the most holistic environmental studies options on the market. There are two earth science related programs on offer at Jacobs University: Earth and Space Sciences (ESS) and Integrated Environmental Studies IES. In both of the programs, the emphasis is on hands-on research. Read the full profile…

THE UNIVERSITY OF WEST ALABAMA
The University of West Alabama is gaining prominence, with substantial surges in enrollment in the past few years. However, the student body is still relatively small, which means current students enjoy plenty of attention. Students pursuing degrees in environmental sciences do so through the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. They work with a diverse set of faculty who come from various backgrounds. Some have been heavily involved in research, others in field studies and application. All are committed to fostering an on-campus environment that encourages exploration, discovery and critical thinking. Read the full profile…

NORTHERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY
For students from Asia seeking an education in the West, this is a natural short-list candidate.  Northern Michigan University is an excellent place to study natural sciences, in part because students are based in the midst of a spectacular outdoor theater. Depending on their course of study, students find themselves mapping out local counties, tracking weather patterns on the shores of Lake Superior or tracking eco-tourism trends in Costa Rica. Class sizes are refreshingly small – usually in the range of 20-40 students. This allows plenty of personal attention with professors and ensures that students have ample access to academic resources. Read the full profile…

Northern Michigan University

Pic: Northern Michigan University.

VERMONT LAW SCHOOL
Vermont Law School operates one of the most talked-about environmental law programs in the US. The school’s Environmental Law Center (ELC) opened in the 1970s, at a time when awareness regarding the need for environmental protection regulations was growing in North America. As such, VLS got in on the ground floor and developed alongside growing social concerns for the environment. It is consistently ranked as one of the top two environmental law programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report. The ELC addresses issues such as global warming, sustainable development, energy law and environmental taxation. Vermont Law School also offers International and Comparative Law Programs that combine study-abroad options, courses led by guest lecturers and international law externships. Read the full profile…

UNIVERSITY OF  ST ANDREWS
St Andrews is one of the oldest universities in the world – ranked third in the English-speaking world after Oxford and Cambridge. The university’s School of Geography and Geosciences offers a spectrum of programs from two departments. The Department of Earth Sciences is a world leader, receiving high marks from the UK’s research assessment exercise (RAE).  Meanwhile, the Department of Geography and Sustainable Development aims to bring together the study of earth systems with those of the environments, places and people found in them. Roughly one in three students at St Andrews hails from abroad, and the university is well-connected with Ivy League institutes in the US.

UNIVERSITY CENTRE OF THE WESTFJORDS
University Centre of the Westfjords is relatively small, and it opened its doors in the past few years. It’s located in Iceland, where the elements play a dramatic role in the lives of locals. This creates a dynamic backdrop from which to tackle environmental issues. One of the University Centre of the Westfjords’ leading courses is a master’s program in Coastal and Marine Management. It’s an ambitious program and demands a great deal from students. Graduates are prepped for work in a variety of sectors, including land use planning and environmental impact assessment.

LUND UNIVERSITY
Times Higher Education places Lund University in the top 50 when it comes to environmental sciences, physical sciences and geography. There’s no questioning the prestige of Lund, whether on Swedish soil or internationally. For the 2012 academic year alone, the school received roughly 11,000 foreign master’s applications representing more than 152 countries. Many of Lund’s courses are taught in English. Asian students earning a degree in environmental sciences will take special interest in the university’s Centre for Environmental and Climate Research. Strong programs in Geology, Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science are also on offer.

Pic: AP.

SEOUL NATIONAL UNIVERSITY
SNU’s reputation is well established around the world. It routinely receives high marks from QS World University Rankings, Times Higher Education and the Science Citation Index. The university ranks particularly well in life sciences. Seoul National University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has been in operation for more than 100 years. Students specialize in environmental sciences and bioengineering, among other sectors.  This is truly a world-class university, and students come from around the world to capitalize on the opportunities that continue to emerge here. To help bolster this, SNU has implemented several exchange programs with universities around the world to increase its international profile.

BRITISH COLUMBIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
The British Columbia Institute of Technology forged strong connections with China when it became the first university in Canada to host a Confucius Institute. Today, Asians make up a strong contingent of the student body at BCIT.  BCIT’s applied and natural sciences program is a world leader, with graduates going on to contribute to the betterment of the environment and society. Popular programs include those in Sustainable Resource Management and Ecological Restoration. Both have immediate and powerful applications in Asia, where rapid development has depleted resources and deteriorated ecosystems.

UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON
UW has a few superlative claims on the northwest region of the US. This is both the largest university in its region and the oldest on the West Coast. It’s also a major player on the international rankings roster, with top-25 standing issued by Newsweek, Times Higher Education World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. UW is a world leader in environmental science education, research and technology transfer. One of the most exciting breakthroughs coming out of the university in the last year deals with using data from global lightening monitoring systems to pinpoint volcanic activity in remote areas.

DUQUESNE UNIVERSITY
Duquesne’s Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences is an East Coast leader in the US. The school issues degrees at all levels, covering Environmental Sciences issues degrees in Environmental Chemistry, Biological Sciences, Environmental Sciences and Management and other similar fields. Bayer has taken a keen interest in environmental developments of China. The school is currently hosting a program called ‘Exploring the Environment of China’. It’s paving the way for students to observe, analyze and finally discuss China’s approach to pollution of water, land and air. This program takes them directly to China, where the cross-cultural experiences are as profound and beneficial as the subject matter covered in class.

Solar power

Pic: AP.

FLINDERS UNIVERSITY
One of the finest universities in Australia, Flinders is well known for its interdisciplinary approach to education. Well-positioned in the Asia-Pacific region, this university is ideal place for students from the Eastern Hemisphere to get a cross-cultural primer in East meets West relations. Naturally, environmental research carried out here is of immediate relevance to developing nations in the region.  The School of Biological Sciences at Flinders is part of an integrated community that hosts programs in Marine Biology, Eco-tourism, Aquaculture and Animal Behavior. One of Flinders’ standout features is the Lincoln Marine Science Centre, where a great deal of research is carried out.

EPFL SWITZERLAND
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) is an international science and technology hub in Switzerland. This is an exceptionally well-networked school, with nearly 180 partner universities around the world. More than 20 of these are in Asia, including partners in China, India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore. The EPFL School of Life Sciences operates the Global Health Institute. The institute is dedicated to human wellness and conducts research into the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases. EPFL also hosts a successful bioengineering program that attracts considerable international attention.

ANTIOCH UNIVERSITY NEW ENGLAND
Antioch University has a network of campuses across the US. The New England branch is especially well known for its Department of Environmental Studies. Students from around the world convene here to work for environmental justice, promote sustainable practices and reinvigorate science education.  Antioch hosts Master’s Degree programs in environmental education, resource management and conservation, conservation biology and environmental advocacy. The university has received plenty of international attention for its achievements in spreading environmental awareness, including recognition by Moveon.Org for the school’s Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program. Antioch also publishes Whole Terrain, an annual journal exploring environmental practice.

UNIVERSITY OF CHESTER
The UK’s University of Chester attracts exchange students from Asia, and some of these are signing on for full-time programs. Wildlife Conservation is as major field of study here. The Bachelor’s Degree program takes three years to complete and mixes time spent in the classroom with hands-on training at a local zoo-licensed facility. The Master’s-level program offers specializations in wildlife crime.  Beyond this, students can earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Hazards. This program is especially relevant to developing Asian communities, given the scope of damage inflicted across the continent by earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters in the last few years.