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The Student Insider

Gain the skills to make a difference in the fight for biodiversity


Written by
Sophie Harrop

The threat to Earth’s biodiversity and ecosystems is the greatest it has ever been, with one million species now at risk of extinction around the globe. According to the WWF Living Planet Report 2022, global wildlife population sizes have declined on average by almost 70% in just 50 years.

A close-up image of a bee on a flower

In December 2022, COP15, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, closed with the agreement of an historical deal to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. Although much more must be done to tackle the causes of nature loss, the target is an important landmark in the bid to reverse the nature crisis we’re facing. 

Indeed, the decline of Earth’s biodiversity is far from inevitable: studies show that the continued loss of wildlife around the world can be prevented. Up to 48 species have already been saved from extinction by conservation action over the past 30 years, including the Iberian lynx and the Puerto Rican amazon parrot. 

It's clear that conservationists are needed more urgently than ever. Conservation organisations – including some of the most prominent – report that they sometimes receive too few applications for conservation jobs, and often struggle to find high-quality applicants.

The MSc Global Environment and Sustainability at the University of London aims to equip students with the skills and experience to fill this gap. The programme, offered in partnership with member institution Birkbeck, covers pressing global environmental problems – from biodiversity, biosecurity and conservation to climate change and environmental hazards. Alongside core modules, you’ll develop in-depth knowledge in your specialist area of interest by designing and carrying out an independent research project. 

The programme’s flexible online format allows you to learn from anywhere in the world, meaning you can study around work and family commitments. You have the option to study individual modules on a pay-as-you-go basis, and can choose to complete a postgraduate certificate or diploma or build up your qualifications to the full MSc. 

The programme is updated regularly, making extensive use of case studies and real-world examples, so you’ll learn to engage critically with the very latest industry practices and policies. The ‘Biodiversity, biosecurity and conservation’ module explores how biodiversity can be conserved effectively and equitably to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals 14 (life below water), and 15 (life on land). It is one of five core modules which can be studied as part of the MSc, PGDip and PGCert programmes, and is also available to study on a stand-alone basis. 

The module explores key examples of crises in biodiversity and biosecurity, and examines conservation philosophies, projects and practices at various scales. You'll learn to discuss and evaluate policy and management interventions, and gain the research skills needed for monitoring biosecurity and biodiversity conservation. 

The Global Environment and Sustainability programme is designed and taught by highly experienced professionals and practitioners, combining academic excellence with industry-related knowledge and expertise. Their links with environmental agencies and non-governmental organisations mean you’ll be exposed to excellent networking and work experience opportunities. 

Lil McDermaid is a current student on the MSc Global Environment and Sustainability. In December 2022, during their first semester, they had the opportunity to attend COP15 in the International Union of Biological Sciences’ delegation through the University of London.

After responding to an advert put out to students on eligible courses, Lil was selected to work with the organising team of the 5th Science-Policy forum within the conference. In the run-up to COP15, they assisted with session planning for the forum and collating briefs for moderators of the sessions.

“When I arrived, on my first day there, I was able to sit in on some of the negotiations in the main hall and see decision documents being approved by the COP President. This was surreal both because of the sheer number of delegates in this massive hall but also because I had never been to an event with as much translation going on,” Lil recalled. 

The forum itself was “a jam-packed two days, with sessions on a variety of biodiversity topics including my favourite one on valuing and measuring biodiversity. I was busily typing down notes throughout, all while trying to soak up the knowledge myself.” 

It was an eye-opening experience, and Lil came away with a clear-eyed perspective on what is needed to achieve conservation goals: “More non-specialists need to be aware of biodiversity decline and the impacts it is having, and will have, on us all to help us tackle it. Political promises are all well and good but definitive action is absolutely key to getting anywhere and avoiding breakdowns of ecosystems,” they emphasised. 

“The whole experience was fantastic. It was the first time I have ever done anything of the sort, and I sincerely hope it will not be the last.  

“If you hear about an opportunity that sounds great – go for it. I applied for this, thinking I had zero chance of being selected for such an amazing task. To think I nearly didn’t apply!” 

Find out how you can start engaging in the fight for Earth’s biodiversity with the MSc in Global Environment and Sustainability.