We have researched and listed the 12 best universities that are deepening our understanding of and creating solutions to global climate change.
Stemming the tide of global climate change is a very large and complicated endeavor. Part of the puzzle being solved by these universities is understanding the causes of climate change, whether they’re natural and/or human, and to what degrees, and making accurate predictions and forecasts about the future climate as a result.
Just as important is providing solutions or working programs for altering or combating climate change/warming trends.
International Universities Climate Alliance and University Climate Change Coalition are two important organizations bringing universities together in this common goal. For this article we focused on universities that are in the U.S.
The Best Universities Solving Climate Change | Ranking Guidelines
The Best Universities Solving Climate Change
Historically, Harvard has connections to the original nationwide rally that would come to be known as ‘Earth Day’. One of the principal organizers of the event, Denis Hayes briefly attended Harvard in 1969. Since then, climate change has become a central area of research at Harvard that spans several disciplines including:
- Engineering and Applied Sciences
- Business and Economics
The Harvard University Center for the Environment (HUCE), directed by Daniel P. Schrag, helps bring together students, professors, and researchers from these various disciplines. The teaching, networking, and collaborative research that arises from the Center helps raise awareness, improves the quality of information available, and provides a global perspective.
HUCE offers a variety of programs including:
- The Environmental Fellows – For recent doctoral graduates who wish to work alongside Harvard faculty members
- The Graduate Consortium on Energy and Environment – Provides networking opportunities for doctoral candidates
- Environmental Science and Public Policy Concentration – For any interested undergraduate students, requires four courses
- Summer Undergraduate Research Fund – Financial support for relevant undergraduate research projects
- Faculty Grants for Exploratory Research
Other research endeavors include:
- The Arctic Initiative – A collaborative effort between the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program and the Environment and Natural Resources Program addressing climate change in the Arctic.
- Saharan dust storms – A revealing study on how climate change will impact dust storms organized by the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine and the Initiative for the Science of the Human Past at Harvard.
- Offshore wind farms – The Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences partnered to research offshore wind farms as a solution to the need for renewable energy.
Harvard also publishes a monthly newsletter titled the ‘Climate Optimist’ which highlights positive environmental tips and encouraging stories.
Harvard University receives accreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Education.
As part of its commitment to sustainability, the University of Washington published a Climate Action Plan in 2009 and regular updates since then. The goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 36% from the 2005 numbers by 2035. Interested students may explore the University’s future plans and Sustainability Dashboard. There is a four-part video series available detailing
“sustainability efforts in the areas of research, teaching, co-curricular programs, and campus operations”.
- Aquatic and Fishery Sciences
- Atmospheric Sciences
- Earth and Space Sciences
- Environmental Science
The study of climate change is interspersed throughout each area. Students have access to resources such as:
- The Climate Impacts Group – A group of University of Washington scientists from various areas striving to identify, develop, and advance comprehensive climate change solutions both in the field and in government legislation.
- The Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center – An interdisciplinary research center that works in collaboration with several other universities as well as the US Department of the Interior. The center is co-hosted by the Climate Impacts Group and the EarthLab.
- The Cooperative Institute for Climate, Ocean and Ecosystem Studies – Specifically focusing on the impacts of climate change on ocean, atmosphere, and fishery sciences. The Institute is a collaborative partnership between the University of Washington, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Oregon State University.
- The Program on Climate Change – Promotes and amplifies climate change work throughout the University of Washington through courses, events, guest speakers, and more.
Last but not least, there are several research units at the University of Washington exploring cutting-edge solutions for climate change from sustainable forestry to the Washington Botanical gardens.
Oregon State University is an International Universities Climate Alliance member.
The College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences offers 13 undergraduate and graduate programs. Each program addresses climate change in its own area. Some of the areas of study include:
- Ocean Science
- Marine Resource Management
- Environmental Sciences
- Geographic Information Sciences
The oceanographic and atmospheric programs are unique to the state of Oregon. Professors are world-class scholars and researchers who bring personal experience to the classroom. Their research expertise covers:
- The Geosphere
- Atmospheric Sciences
- Geography and Geospatial Sciences
Students and professors have access to top research facilities such as:
- OSU Marine and Geology Repository – This group aims to protect marine samples for future research.
- Ocean Observatories Initiative – Maintains a sensor system that takes a variety of measurements of the ocean and sea floor, looking for patterns and changes
- Ice Core & Quaternary Geochemistry Lab – Researchers climate and biogeochemical cycles of the past
Additionally, Oregon State University is home to the PRISM Climate Group. This research group gathers and analyzes a range of information in search of climate patterns. Information is collected from a wide variety of monitoring networks. Datasets range from as early as 1895 to the present. Much of the information is available to the public.
Minimum GPA of transfer credit: 2.25
GRE or GMAT requirement: Yes, for most programs
Caltech is home to the Climate Dynamics Group. This collaborative group focuses on atmospheric dynamics on Earth as well as on other planets. Researchers strive to answer questions such as:
“What controls the surface temperatures and winds? What shapes rainfall patterns? Where and when do clouds form in the atmosphere?”
These questions require the accumulation and analysis of large amounts of data. Thanks to the advancement of computer and space technology such observations are possible and will contribute to scientific discovery. The Climate Dynamics Group is applying their information to improve climate predictions and weather forecasting models. As such, the Climate Dynamics Group is part of the Climate Modeling Alliance (CliMA).
CliMA is a multidisciplinary group of researchers from Caltech, the Naval Postgraduate School, MIT, and NASA. The focus of the group is to provide accurate information in regards to weather extremes such as droughts, heat waves, and rainfall. The goal is to implement mitigating actions wherever possible and to setup resilient infrastructure where mitigation is not possible.
Dan McCleese is Project Manager of CliMA and a visiting associate professor at CalTech.
WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) is an International Universities Climate Alliance member. UCSD also has a STARS Gold rating from Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).
The University promotes on campus climate improvement through two green programs:
- Green Labs program – Strives to balance research effectiveness with a reduced carbon footprint without compromising safety or the quality of research
- Green Office certification – The Green Office team evaluates campus environments and strives to help each office meet the Climate Action Plan of the University. The team offers improvement strategies in the areas of waste reduction, transportation, and energy efficiency.
The Climate Action Plan for the University at large details the schools overall strategy to become carbon neutral by 2025. The Action Plan recommends a ‘diversified’ approach to this goal.
Another large source of climate change education and research at UCSD comes from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The Institute offers a variety of degree programs including:
- A one-year professional master’s degree in Mas-Climate Science and Policy
- Bachelor’s degrees in:
- Environmental Systems
- Marine Biology
- Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences
- Earth Sciences
- Climate Change Studies minor
- Several relevant PhD and Master’s degrees
The Institute manages a number of Climate Change Research Centers including:
- Center for Climate Change Impacts and Adaption – emphasizes academic-community partnerships with the focus areas of
- Sea-level rise and coastal hazards
- Marine ecosystems and climate change
- Human health and climate change
- Scripps Polar Center – A diverse group of scientists from Scripps who focus on all things related to the Polar environment
- Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation – Strives to maintain the integrity of ocean ecosystems and to preserve them for future use and study
- Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment – Studies the effects of aerosol particles on the atmosphere
- Center For Western Weather and Water Extremes – Uses technology to improve tracking weather systems and implement effective outreach programs
Perhaps the largest resource for information, research, and education at ASU regarding climate change can be found through the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation (GIOSI) . It is the central location for sustainability research, it maintains over 20 centers, initiatives, and networks, and is the connection point for several educational opportunities.
Some of the research centers and initiatives include:
- Center for Biodiversity Outcomes – Focuses on preserving biodiversity for the future.
- Healthy Urban Environments Initiative – Focuses on ways to decrease air pollution in cities.
- Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems – Researching diverse food systems that are more resilient.
- Global Drylands Center – Focuses on dryland stewardship
GIOSI maintains a data portal that is free to search for any datasets that GIOSI researchers have published.
GIOSI offers educational opportunities in connection with the College of Global Futures. The College of Global Futures consists of
- The School for the Future of Innovation in Society
- The School of Sustainability
- The School of Complex Adaptive Systems
Course and program offerings range from certificate through doctoral level. GIOSI helps connect students in these various programs with appropriate internship experiences for their education level and desired career goals.
There is much more for students to explore in connection with climate change through ASU including:
Minimum GPA requirement: 3.00
GRE or GMAT requirement: Yes
The Higher Learning Commission provides Arizona State University with accreditation.
Texas A&M University is an International Universities Climate Alliance member.
The College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the areas of:
- Atmospheric Sciences
- Geology and Geophysics
- Environmental Programs
The Environmental Programs degrees offer an interdisciplinary foundation for understanding the Earth. The available degrees include:
- Bachelor of Science in Environmental Geosciences – This program focuses on practical application with a heavy math and science emphasis. Specialization areas are available in:
- Climate Change
- Coastal and Marine Environments
- Human Impact on the Environment
- Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies – This program focuses on the politics and policy implementation effecting climate change. Specialization areas are available in :
- Urban Environments
- Geographic Information Science and Technology
- Environmental Regulation and Compliance
- Occupational Health and Safety
- Global Environment
- A fast track Bachelor of Science in the Environmental Geosciences and Master of Ocean Science and Technology degree. Students complete this program in five years.
There are also three relevant minor programs available. The Climate change minor evaluates both the science and the politics behind the field. The minor requires 16 hours of course work. Some course options include:
- Geography of Energy
- Global Climatic Regions
- Past Climates
- Polar Regions of the Earth
- Science and Politics of Climate Change
A similar Environmental Geosciences minor is also available to students outside of the Environmental programs. Classes focus on how the environment and Earth’s systems interact. This minor requires 15 hours of course work.
Finally, the Earth Systems minor focuses on Earth’s systems and processes. This minor requires 15 hours of course work.
Students have access to hands-on research through cutting-edge facilities such as:
- TAMU GeoServices – offers information processing services and research areas such as geocoding
- The Center for Geospatial Sciences, Applications and Technology
- International Laboratory for High-Resolution Earth System Prediction
University of Illinois, Urbana is an International Universities Climate Alliance member.
At the University of Illinois, the College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences offers 12 undergraduate majors in addition to several graduate programs, certificates, and minors.
There are a number of programs relevant to creating a sustainable future through positive environmental and climate changes. Perhaps some of the most pertinent degrees can be found through the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. This department offers
“educational and research programs [centered] on science, applied ecology, and conservation in a variety of aquatic, terrestrial and human dominated ecosystems.”
At the undergraduate level, the Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences offers four concentrations:
- Ecosystem Stewardship and Restoration Ecology
- Environmental Science and Management
- Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology
- Human Dimensions of the Environment
Each program requires 126 credits total, which includes at least one Field Experience course. Students may continue on to graduate level study as well.
Research areas specific to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences include:
- Applied Animal Ecology and Conservation
- Global Environmental Change
- Human Dimensions of the Environment
- Landscape and Ecosystem Ecology
- Microbial Communities and Functions
- Restoration Ecology
Students have access to additional tools and information such as Cli-MATE (MRCC’s Application Tools Environment). This is an online research platform for a variety of climate data. The University also has a published Climate Action Plan which details the University’s goal to being carbon neutral by 2050 or sooner.
The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign receives accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
Pennsylvania State University is an International Universities Climate Alliance member
The College of Earth and Mineral Sciences offers Bachelor, Master, and Doctoral programs. The College is comprised of five departments:
- John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering
- Department of Geography
- Department of Geosciences
- Department of Materials Science and Engineering
- Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science
Each program through the various departments touches on climate change and environmental preservation in its own way. Students find other excellent resources and research opportunities through:
- Future Energy, Water, Landscape Initiative – The goal is to navigate an increasing population with the demands on the Earth’s resources. Researchers in this initiative are exploring energy options that also promote a clean and healthy environment. Additionally, they want to address water shortage issues and how those shortages relate to climate change.
- Sustainability Institute – Though taking a broad, holistic approach, the Sustainability Institute includes climate action as part of its goals.
- Earth and Environmental Systems Institute – A national leading interdisciplinary group of researchers all working towards solutions to the most pressing environmental challenges. The Institute works with:
Additionally, students can view the Climate Action Plan for the University which shows a 32 percent reduction in the campus greenhouse gasses since 2005.
Cornell University is an International Universities Climate Alliance member.
The Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability is the central location for information, programs, and research regarding climate change and sustainability. The Center has four research focus areas:
In regards to Climate, the Center is using innovative technology and policy changes to address critical areas including:
- Effects of sea level rise
- Climate-induced human migration
- Reducing greenhouse gas concentrations
- Catastrophic weather
The Center provides research opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students.
Cornell also manages several other research programs including:
- The Cornell Climate Smart Solutions Program – A team of diverse researchers working to increase climate literacy and improve agricultural and community systems that impact the environment through the use of smart technology.
- The Cornell Climate Smart Farming (CSF) Program – A more specific program developed to provide information and resources to farmers to minimize climate impact.
- The Climate Action Plan for the University – Details Cornell’s plan for carbon neutrality
In regards to educational programs, Cornell offers a Bachelor of Science in Environment and Sustainability with six concentrations:
- Environmental Biology and Applied Ecology
- Environmental Economics
- Environmental Humanities
- Environmental Policy and Governance
- Land, Air and Water Resources
- Individual Student-Designed Concentration
A Climate Change minor is also available.
For more information students are invited to visit the Sustainability home page.
Cornell University receives accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
New York University is an International Universities Climate Alliance member.
At New York University (NYU), the Office of Sustainability is the central hub for information on NYU’s climate goals. The University’s aim is to be carbon neutral by 2040. As part of the campus resiliency efforts, NYU uses CoGeneration power. The on-campus generator plant uses waste heat from the production of electricity to provide energy for campus buildings. In this way, classrooms are temperature controlled more effectively and are more resistant to large-scale blackouts.
NYU offers several educational opportunities for students interested in the field of climate change. The Department of Environmental Studies offers a major in Environmental Studies and a minor in Animal Studies. The major requires students to complete a total of 36 points in classes. Students receive a broad understanding of local and global environmental issues. Students may pursue areas of specialization such as:
- Environmental values, policy, and law
- Public Health
- Energy Systemts
- Environmental Justice
NYU also offers a Master of Arts in Environmental Conservation Education. Here students will study in depth how human activity effects the environment. The degree requires 37 credits for completion. Climate related internships are available through several institutions such as:
- Earth Day Network
- National Park Service
- U.S. Composting Council
- World Resources Institute
New York University receives accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Yale University is an International Universities Climate Alliance member.
The Yale School of the Environment was founded in 1900. It offers graduate level study with both professional and research-oriented tracks. Joint degrees are also available for students interested in cross-disciplinary study. It is a central location for research and information on environmental topics for both the local region and the globe. Faculty expertise covers a broad spectrum including:
- Climate Change and Climate Science
- Environmental Justice
- Natural Resource Management and Policy
Part of the School of the Environment is the Yale program on Climate Change Communication, directed by Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz. This research based initiative uses a variety of social and entertainment media to educate and influence general attitudes and behaviors towards climate change. The program also provides resources for leaders in the field to communicate more effectively with the public.
Additionally, the Yale Center on Climate Change and Health analyzes numerous health factors such as increased morbidity and respiratory diseases and the relation to climate change and resource scarcity. The goal of the center is to see a stable climate in a world with a thriving, diverse ecosystem.
Finally, Yale’s Sustainability page provides further information on the University’s Climate Action plan, stewardship goals, and reusing materials.
Yale University receives accreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Education.
There is no ranking of importance (or any other ranking factor) of schools, programs, initiatives, etc., in this list. Each university is contributing in important ways to solving climate change. The order is arbitrary.