New UW environment program tackles climate change

Graphic by Jia Chen

As scientists continue to observe changes in the global climate, there has been a push for further research and education surrounding the prevention of climate change. To meet the growing need for educated leaders who can tackle the climate crisis, the University of Waterloo has announced a new program: the BSc in Climate and Environmental Change (CEC).

“The climate crisis has been consistently in the news in 2021 – in just this year in North America we’ve seen a freeze in Texas that shut down power grids, the West Coast went through its most devastating fire season yet, and BC went through extreme heat and now heartbreaking flooding,” said Richard Kelly, chair of the department of geography and environmental management. “There is an urgent need for programs that address both the science of climate and environmental change as well as the human dimensions of this. This program is designed to address this – what is happening? Why is it happening? What can we do about it, and how do we do this?”

The objective of the CEC program is to provide students with knowledge of the Earth’s climate system, an understanding of climate change from multiple perspectives and an appreciation of the implications of climate change for society. The CEC program will cover many topics related to the science behind environmental change, including biology, chemistry, physics and earth science.

“Water and energy are key areas of focus – to understand how these resources will change under a warming climate and what the implications are for the physical landscape, human society, and the economy,” said Erin O’Connell, associate chair, undergraduate studies of the department of geography and environmental management. “The CEC program also focuses specifically on the climate and environmental science and solutions compared to other programs that often have a broader environmental focus.”

In addition to science, the program will also teach technical skills in computer modelling and spatial data analysis. This could prepare students for technology-driven careers in climate modelling and risk prediction.

“Climate change solutions require a fundamental understanding of the natural sciences coupled with technological and other innovations,” said Jean Andrey, dean of the faculty of environment, in a UW news release. “Our department of geography is well positioned to tackle these problems since it is rooted in environmental science and has a strong applied component that draws on new and established technologies in geomatics.”

The first two years of the program will focus on providing foundational CEC knowledge, while the last two years will delve deeper into specific climate issues.

“By the third and fourth years students will be able to apply their CEC expertise to environmental problems such as management of natural wetland systems, climate modelling, river and lake systems monitoring, sea level risk assessment and adaptation,” Kelly said.

The new program will be housed in the faculty of environment within the department of geography and environmental management. It will be available with a co-op option, allowing students to gain relevant CEC experience through lab placements or fieldwork. O’Connell also mentioned that the last co-op term will be eight months, opening up potential opportunities for students to work in northern Canada where longer placements are often required.

Current students who are interested in majoring in CEC may apply to transfer. While joint degrees are not possible and there is no minor available in CEC, students across campus can do a geography minor and take key courses that will provide them with climate change knowledge.