PhD Scholarships in Climate Change: A Comprehensive Guide


Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time. The impacts of a changing climate are already being felt worldwide through more extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and greater climate instability. To address this urgent challenge, we need top-quality scientific research and policy solutions developed by a new generation of climate leaders.

PhD scholarships play a vital role in training those leaders. A PhD allows researchers to delve into the complexity of climate science and solutions at the highest levels. It develops the knowledge and skills to investigate climate feedback mechanisms, make climate projections, design mitigation and adaptation strategies, and help implement the changes needed.

Types of PhD Scholarships in Climate Change

There are a few main categories of PhD scholarships focused on climate change:

Government and Institutional Scholarships

Many countries and universities directly fund PhD positions related to climate research through government scholarships or institutional awards. Here are some prominent examples:

  • UK Research Councils (e.g. NERC, ESRC) offer prestigious international scholarships through their Doctoral Training Partnerships. The Natural Environment Research Council’s Climate Science DTP at the University of East Anglia is a leading global program.
  • DAAD Germany facilitates exchanges for international PhD students to study at top German universities. The Future Ocean network funds positions at Kiel, Bremen and other coastal universities.
  • CSIRO scholarship positions in Australia support PhDs conducted in collaboration with the national science agency. Research areas span climate adaptation, remote sensing, coastal processes and more.
  • National Science Foundation of the US funds individual graduate research fellowships. Prior NSF funding experience strengthens applications for specialized climate science fellowships.
  • Canadian Institutes fund PhDs through Discovery Grants held by faculty members. Areas of focus include climate modeling, Arctic feedbacks, glaciology and more.

Government and institutional scholarships generally offer competitive stipends for living expenses and cover tuition/insurance costs. Prestige and opportunity for international mobility make these highly sought-after awards.

Industry and Foundation Fellowships

Funding bodies in the private and non-profit sectors also back specialized climate-focused PhDs. Examples include:

  • Shell/IEA joint PhDs in low-carbon technologies at Imperial College London.
  • The Rhodes Trust funds climate leadership PhDs at Oxford on sustainability challenges.
  • The Grantham Foundation supports PhDs on long-term environmental change at LSE and other universities.
  • Fellowships from the European Climate Foundation enable PhDs across Europe on mitigation strategies.

These diverse programs provide industry exposure, international mobility and focus on real-world solutions beyond core science research. Stipends tend to be comparable to national scholarships.

Self-Funded and Part-Funded Options

For applicants who miss out on external awards, it is still possible to undertake climate-related PhDs through self-funded or part-funded routes. This involves:

  • Identifying faculty supervisors with relevant research projects and available funding to cover some expenses/stipends.
  • Approaching organizations to partner on co-funded studentships (e.g. NGOs, local government, energy firms for applied research projects).
  • Applying to specialized master’s programs which provide a pathway to funded PhDs if research proposals are strong.
  • Working part-time to supplement living costs while accessing university scholarships/bursaries.

Careful planning of the research proposal and identifying potential funding streams are key to making self-funded PhDs feasible and attractive to supervisors. With dedication, interesting projects can still be realized.

Common Eligibility Requirements

Most PhD scholarships in climate change will have some standard eligibility criteria:

  • A minimum upper second-class bachelor’s degree, or relevant master’s degree, in a science, social science or engineering subject relating to climate change (e.g. atmospheric science, environmental policy, coastal engineering).
  • For international awards, strong English language ability is essential. IELTS 7.0 or TOEFL 100 are common minimum score requirements.
  • EU/EEA candidates will have additional requirements for some European scholarships/PhDs due to local student status rules.
  • Motivation for a research career in a climate-related field and clear PhD research proposal ideas matching institutional/funder priorities.
  • Academically excellent candidates with good references and potentially prior research experience may have an advantage.
  • Additional criteria like nationality, residency status or fieldwork experience apply for some domestic/commonwealth scholarships.

Being aware of eligibility windows and meeting all criteria are vital for a competitive application. Strong candidates will evidence career ambitions aligning with the aims of funding bodies.

Supported Research Areas

PhD scholarships tend to focus funding on particular climate research areas aligned with institutional strengths and strategic priorities:

Climate Science

  • Climate modelling and downscaling
  • Paleoclimatology
  • Remote sensing of climate variables
  • Climate impacts on ecosystems
  • Atmospheric composition and feedbacks

Climate Policy and Economics

  • Low-carbon technologies assessment
  • Environmental regulation and law
  • Climate change adaptation strategies
  • Green accounting and climate finance
  • Low-emissions urban and transport planning

Climate Risk and Resilience

  • Climate risk management and insurance
  • Disaster risk reduction challenges
  • Food and water security under climate change
  • Climate vulnerability and equity issues
  • Community resilience building approaches

Energy and Mitigation Strategies

  • Renewable energy resource assessment
  • Grid integration of variable renewables
  • Carbon capture and storage technologies
  • Demand side management
  • Buildings retrofitting for emissions reductions

Regional Climate Change Focus Areas

  • Arctic climate feedbacks and tipping points
  • Impacts on small island developing states
  • Climate hazards in coastal megacities
  • Climate justice in the Global South
  • Climate services for agriculture in Africa

Scholarships may prioritize applied research projects with clear societal relevance or basic research agendas. Be aware of institutional research strengths when designing proposals.

The Application Process

PhD scholarship applications require careful preparation over several months:

Summer/Autumn Preparation

  • Identify suitable programs and start following application deadlines (usually Nov-Jan)
  • Contact potential supervisors to express interest and discuss potential project ideas
  • Request reference letters well in advance from referees
  • Prepare CV highlighting qualifications and prepare application form
  • Register for/take required tests like GRE, GMAT, IELTS/TOEFL by Sept/Oct

Research Proposal Development

  • Undertake thorough literature review on proposed research area
  • Define central research question and objectives over 3 years
  • Explain methodology, resources required and expected outputs/impact
  • Refine regularly with input from potential supervisors

Final Application Submission

  • Assemble all required documents by deadlines (refs, transcripts, CV, statements)
  • Carefully proofread application and double check all requirements are met
  • Submit, then follow up to confirm receipt where possible

The Interview Stage (sometimes required)

  • Prepare responses to sample questions on motivation and proposal
  • Practice presenting research to non-experts clearly and concisely
  • Dress professionally and demonstrate enthusiasm for the research area

Paying meticulous attention to deadlines, requirements and selling your interests/fit is key to standing out in a competitive process. Starting early ensures quality outcomes.

Additional Application Tips

A few additional tips can boost scholarship chances:

  • Emphasize how your proposed project aligns with funder/university goals and build on institutional strengths.
  • Highlight relevant transferable skills from prior degrees, research, work or activities to demonstrate your capacity to deliver.
  • Make a compelling case for why you personally are passionate about the research topic and ideal for pursuing it.
  • Consider interdisciplinary or collaborative research angles to demonstrate wider impact potential.
  • Contact referees well in advance and provide them with your CV and research interests/ achievements to spotlight in their reference letter.
  • Have others proofread your statements for clarity, structure and overall positive first impression conveyed.
  • Follow up courteously after submitting to reiterate your interest and availability for interviews if required.
  • Carefully tailor each application to requirements while maintaining a consistent authentic narrative of your suitability.

Maximizing opportunity by highlighting fit, skills and passion for the topic through a polished application can make the difference in competitive processes.

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