Rising temperatures, a growing water crisis, changing rainfall patterns – climate change is the crisis of our times, and universities have started responding with specialised courses that allow students to trace the causes and study the fallouts. These courses are typically open to students from across backgrounds, and most of the courses have been around less than five years.
Jindal Global University started a Master of Laws (LLM) in environmental law, energy and climate change in August; Shiv Nadar University has been offering a postgraduate course in water science and policy since August 2017; Ashoka University has had courses on climate change as part of the earth science courses, and as part of literature (climate fiction), since 2016; the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) offers a course in climate change and sustainability studies and multiple Indian Institutes of Technology have climate change and climate studies courses.
The number of courses on offer needs to grow, says professor of biology at Ashoka University, LS Shashidhara who has been working in the field of climate change education for five years and is now coordinating an international project to develop courses and lesson plans on climate change to train teachers.
“The impact of climate change is not uniform across the globe. The solutions too will have to be more local. This means more people from around the world need to be educated and involved in mitigation efforts,” he says.
Though it is not yet clear what role climate change professionals are going to play, all industries will have to comply with international agreements and thereby place in action many measures to reduce their carbon footprint. Shashidhara says this will create demand for mitigation experts; once there are more experts, hopefully innovative solutions will emerge. Most courses are, for obvious reasons, taking an interdisciplinary approach. The TISS postgraduate course aims to conduct research, teach and advocate in areas like resource economics and environmental governance. Shiva Nadar University is aiming to create a cadre of ‘water professionals’, to create awareness of the water crisis as it unfolds, and work on interventions.
“To understand the water crisis, for instance, one needs understand both the natural and social sciences that influence it,” says professor of international relations and governance studies at Shiv Nadar University, Rajeshwari Raina.
The course hence covers topics like how to measure erosion or hydrogeology, which is the science of distribution and movement of ground water, along India’s water policies over the years – starting with the big dams and including the recent policy on groundwater formulated in December.
Shrabani S Tripathy, who is working on a PhD in climate studies at IIT-Bombay after finishing a Masters in the same from IIT-Bhubaneswar, says the goal is to eventually be able to combine theoretical knowledge of natural science with social science. “I work on floods. It is a common concern now and the meteorological measurements are being done but there also an important aspect of subjective ability of a place to cope. So a town in Rajasthan for example is way less prepared for a flood than Mumbai,” she says.
Even in a more nascent field like environmental law, director of admissions at OP Jindal Global University, Arjya B Majumdar is optimistic about growing job opportunities.
“As we experience more effects of the climate crisis, this field is bound to pick up. Many leading corporate law firms in India have already set up environmental law practices. We envisage our students playing a key role in policymaking, as well as in conventional roles in litigation and within corporate practice.”