What Are the Best Jobs to Fight Climate Change? A Guide to Careers That Will Help the Most

How can you make the most difference in the fight against climate change? That’s the question this article aims to answer, driven by one surprising insight: that some approaches to combating climate change are much more effective than others. 

For example, did you know that by donating just $100 to the most effective organizations working on climate change, you could prevent over four times as much CO2 from entering the atmosphere as you would by giving up your car for a year?

Or that by skipping one return long-haul flight, you could save over 100 times the carbon emissions as you would from reusing a plastic bag for 1,000 trips to the grocery store?

Of course, we can stack up many different actions to help the environment, like foregoing air travel and reusing bags. But when we’re talking about careers, you can only focus on one thing at once. This makes strategizing with your career much more important.

The following jobs are those that could allow the right person to help in the fight against climate change by working on the highest priority issues, whether this be through reducing significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions or helping civilization adapt to the harmful effects of climate change. If you’re interested in our reasoning, you can read the full article on prioritizing problems within climate change here.

These are far from all of the promising opportunities you’ll be able to find – but it’s a good place to start!

Resource spotlight

Interested in exploring a career that does good, inside or outside of climate change? Our full career guide will guide you through the most important questions and help you find a career that’s good for you and good for the world.

Our recommended jobs

Climate scientist

Salary: Around $95,000 for atmospheric scientists and meteorologists

Job description: Climate scientists work in a range of scientific disciplines that study the physical, chemical, and biological processes that affect the Earth’s climate, as well as understand human influences on climate change and how to mitigate them. They can work in academia, government, as well as climate tech companies, and even advocacy.

Entering the field: Though the paths of climate scientists are varied, typical undergraduate degrees in a related subject such as physics, environmental science, meteorology, mathematics, computer/data science, and other degrees in the natural sciences are likely to be suitable. However, climate science roles in which you conduct your own research, and therefore offer more leverage, will typically require a PhD.

Why we’d recommend climate science: Climate science is a versatile field that can facilitate work on many issues related to climate change, including some topics that are very important but neglected relative to others. Such topics may include climate change “tipping points”, or effects of climate change specifically in tropical regions and low- and middle-income countries. Climate scientists who develop sufficient credibility may also be able to use their credentials in impactful ways in parallel to their scientific work or at a later stage in their career, such as performing advocacy work, directing climate change policy, communicating to the public, or working as a climate-focused grantmaker.

Other considerations: Climate scientists will generally make the most positive difference by researching areas that are the most important, tractable, and neglected within climate change. However, incentives within different organizations might often work against this. For instance, in academia, the research that is most likely to get funding or be published in top journals may not always be aligned with research that is the highest priority

As a result, climate science is a promising path, especially if you can focus on the most important and neglected questions within climate change. It’s also important that you’re a particularly good fit for research roles, which typically require significant enthusiasm for the subject area given the competitiveness of the field and the often independent nature of the work. 

More on climate science jobs

Civil servant

Salary: Around $88,000 for U.S. Department of Energy employees 

Job description: Civil servants are responsible for almost all aspects of government, such as running public services, developing & maintaining infrastructure, and working on policy design and implementation.

Entering the field: Entering the civil service – particularly at the national level – typically requires an undergraduate degree, regardless of country. Countries vary in how they recruit new civil servants, from standard applications, to graduate schemes, and even competitive examination processes. Though many civil service jobs don’t require a specific degree subject, some more specialized roles – such as those focusing on finance – often do. A degree in the natural sciences would likely aid a civil servant looking to work in some more specialized roles relevant to climate change. Entering the civil service at a more senior level might require more specific experience and qualifications, depending on the role.

Why we’d recommend the civil service: As we’ve written before, civil service roles can confer very high amounts of leverage. Because government budgets are often so large – particularly in high-income countries – even relatively low-ranking civil servants can often find themselves able to influence large sums of money. If directed to the right places, this can bring about large-scale benefits. For instance, the German government’s investment in solar power in the early 2000s was plausibly responsible for significantly reducing solar energy costs for the rest of the world. 

Other considerations: Governments are notoriously difficult bureaucracies to navigate, which can often make decisions and implementation slow. Political constraints are also often highly restrictive; the civil service can only implement climate solutions that are permitted by senior politicians and, by extension, voters. Additionally, governments in low- and-middle-income countries (LMICs) typically have more constrained budgets, meaning it might be harder to bring about impactful R&D or climate resilience projects as a member of the civil service in LMICs than it might be in high-income countries. On the other hand, adaptation and resilience work might be particularly impactful in these countries, as there’s more scope for relevant projects.

Overall, civil service roles may be promising for those who are particularly well-suited for navigating the pitfalls often found in large bureaucracies, and who can find themselves in a team or department that has control over important and large-scale decisions related to the country’s approach to climate change mitigation or adaptation. The promisingness of these careers will also depend on one’s country; for instance, some countries contribute more to climate change, or are more globally influential than others, and therefore may facilitate more sizable improvements.

More on the civil service

Alternative protein researcher

Salary: Around $102,000 for biochemists and biophysicists, and $48,000 for biological technicians 

Job description: Alternative protein researchers work to improve and create new non-animal-derived food products, such as plant-based products and cultivated meat. This work is primarily focused on the scientific techniques behind developing such products and ensuring they are enjoyable, affordable, and safe.

Entering the field: Most jobs in this space technically only require a relevant undergraduate degree (see here for some specific relevant subjects). However, a postgraduate qualification such as a master’s or PhD is likely to be highly advantageous and sometimes necessary, especially for more technical research roles. In addition to qualifications, industry experience is also often important.

Why we’d recommend alternative protein research: Animal agriculture is one of the most significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Producing alternative proteins that are competitive with animal-derived proteins like meat, eggs, and dairy on cost and taste could reduce demand for meat, reducing livestock numbers and thereby emissions. This may also be a great way to reduce the scale of farmed animal agriculture, one of the most significant negative impacts on animal welfare – so it’s a potential double win. 

Other considerations: There are substantial impediments to some alternative proteins, particularly cultivated meat, in equalling their animal-derived alternatives on cost, taste, and texture. If there are hard limits on advancing these products, then these careers look less promising. People in this path may also need to be comfortable with risk; this is a nascent, experimental field and many efforts are unlikely to pay off – though the ones that do could have a huge positive effect. 

Overall, alternative protein research is likely to be a very good option for some people, given its potential for positive effects on the environment as well as animal welfare. However, as the industry becomes increasingly crowded with funding and talent, it may be worth seeking out more bottlenecked areas.

More on animal protein research jobs

Climate-focused engineer

Salary: Around $96,000 for Environmental engineers, $106,000 for chemical engineers, and $122,000 for nuclear engineers

Job description: Engineering is a profession that spans a huge range of disciplines and roles involved in the creation of technology, infrastructure, software, and other products that require technical expertise. Though many engineering disciplines can bring their skills to bear on helping the environment, a few representative examples include materials engineers, who could develop more resilient and eco-friendly construction materials, electrical engineers who can advance and scale renewable energy technologies, and civil engineers, who can help build more efficient transport networks. 

Entering the field: An undergraduate degree in an engineering subject will likely be required for any climate-focused engineering role. Postgraduate degrees are also likely to be helpful, particularly if you want to specialize in a specific area or technology. Even if you’re not confident about dedicating your career to climate change, studying engineering and deciding on an application later will leave many great opportunities available both inside and outside of climate change.

Why we’d recommend engineering: Some of the most promising options available in the fight against climate change rely on the innovation of new technologies and infrastructure, as well as the deployment of existing technologies, both of which utilize engineers. For instance, improving and scaling up existing clean energy sources (such as renewables and nuclear) could help us greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and develop promising new methods of creating energy, such as “superhot rock energy”, and novel approaches to carbon capture, may accelerate further reductions. 

Additionally, adapting to the effects of climate change will require infrastructure that can help us cope with extreme weather and sea level rise, such as flood defenses and other resilient infrastructure. In short, engineers can perform important work on several high-priority areas within climate change. 

Other considerations: Many companies and organizations claim to have positive environmental ambitions, but the degree to which this bears out in reality varies widely. Because of this, some engineers could find themselves working for companies that are ostensibly tackling climate change but not focused on doing so effectively. It’s therefore important for engineers both to prioritize the problems in climate change they want to help solve, as well as to investigate the specific organization they’re joining to determine whether their efforts are aimed at meaningful climate-focused improvements.

Overall, given the range of engineering specialties and their applicability to solutions to the climate crisis, working as a climate-focused engineer may be a great option for many people with a background in or affinity for an engineering discipline. However, because of the range of problems one might tackle within the profession, it may be especially important for engineers to prioritize and work only on the most promising problems and solutions.

Advocate 

Salary: Around $89,000 for climate change policy specialists & advocates

Job description: Advocates work to raise awareness and drive action to help solve climate change. They do so either publicly, influencing public attitudes at large, or privately, using networks to help convince important decision makers, such as politicians, to take their ideas on board as insiders. Though much advocacy is performed voluntarily (particularly small-scale activism), formal positions are available in organizations such as think tanks and nonprofits. The nature of these roles ranges from public-facing communications work to more research-driven work that works out which policies to prioritize, and how best to communicate them to the public or policymakers.

Entering the field: Because advocacy work encompasses a variety of role types, our search for advocacy job adverts revealed a diversity of requirements. For some roles, qualifications in environmental science or related subjects were required, whilst others prioritized experience in communications or politics. This will likely depend on the nature of the role, as well as the organization’s strategy.

Outside of formal roles, there are several routes to performing climate advocacy. For instance, climate change experts may be able to use their credentials to get advocacy platforms such as interviews or advisory positions. Professional communicators, such as journalists, authors, and public intellectuals, may also be able to incorporate climate change advocacy into their broader work. Various forms of voluntary advocacy work can also be conducted alongside other careers.

Why we’d recommend advocacy: By shifting public attitudes and directly engaging with policymakers, advocates can have an impressive amount of influence over important policy. In general, altering policy is a way to achieve large-scale improvements due to the resources and authority that governments have – and climate change is no different. In fact, Giving Green, a climate-focused charity evaluator, primarily recommends advocacy organizations as its most recommended charities due to the impressive scale of positive influence the best advocacy work can have on climate policy. As one example, the Evergreen Collaborative successfully lobbied for various additions to the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act

Other considerations: Climate activism is commonplace, and is therefore quite crowded. This makes one additional voice less likely to make too much of a difference. Because of this, it may be important for advocates to focus on more neglected areas within climate change advocacy – like promoting overlooked ideas or targeting new audiences. 

Overall, advocacy is likely to be a promising option for some people, given the large wins that advocacy has had in the climate space. Because advocacy seems to be less neglected than some other climate-focused careers, this path will likely be an especially good option for those who are (or could become) well-networked in relevant policy circles, or have access to a large audience. 

More on advocacy jobs

Green impact financing

Salary: Around $97,000 for financial analysts 

Job description: Careers in green financing involve leveraging finance to help scale up promising new interventions and incentivizing sustainable business practices. People in this career analyze and select investment opportunities that promote positive environmental impacts, such as renewable energy projects, sustainable agriculture, and clean technology companies. Green impact financiers may work in a dedicated green investment fund, or the sustainability-focused team or department of a larger finance organization. Individuals with high net worth may also invest their own capital.

Entering the field: Since green investing is part of the larger finance industry, entering the field is largely similar to getting standard finance jobs. Desirable degree subjects generally include mathematics, finance, economics, business, and accounting. 

Why we’d recommend green investing: The basic case for green impact financing is that roles in this space can allow you to move large amounts of money toward developing promising organizations, projects, services, and infrastructure. Historically, finance coming into climate change has been responsible for some big wins, such as the rapidly falling costs of renewable energy – and increasing consumer demand means there’s quite a bit of money earmarked for environmentally sustainable investment. Furthermore, research suggests that upfront investment costs are one of the key bottlenecks in the advancement of several forms of renewable energy. As a green impact investor, you may be able to help direct money towards efforts that focus on the highest priority climate issues.

Other considerations: A lot of money is already spent on climate, with an estimated $803bn spent in 2019-20. To be sure, much more is needed but it could be difficult to find very promising areas for investment that are not already crowded. It’s also important to avoid common pitfalls with sustainable investing, where existing popular metrics (such as ESG scores) don’t seem to track real positive impact particularly well. Furthermore, financial incentives might heavily constrain the endeavors you’re able to fund, since many of the most promising solutions to climate change may not offer opportunities for timely returns on investment. 

Overall, green impact financing could allow some people to make a meaningful difference in the fight against climate change, but it’s likely highly promising scalable opportunities are outnumbered by projects that are unlikely to succeed or that are unable to scale sufficiently. As a result, green impact financing is primarily a promising route in scenarios where you’re able to truly optimize for positive impact rather than returns on investment, or can command particularly large sums of money (or some combination of the two). 

More on green impact financing

Jobs we’re unlikely to recommend

The following jobs are those that many people who want to help with climate change are drawn towards. After investigating them, we’re not currently as likely to recommend that people pursue these paths as those we list above. This is because, as far as we can tell, they offer fewer opportunities to make a difference at a large scale. As such, we’d recommend considering them only if you can find a truly exceptional opportunity.

Sustainability specialist

Salary: Around $82,000 for sustainability specialists 

Job description: Sustainability professionals work to help organizations become more environmentally responsible. They may do this through improving practices within an organization’s buildings, offices, and stores (such as deploying energy-saving strategies), but also through influencing the organization’s activities, such as influencing product design and manufacturing, or scrutinizing the carbon footprint of a specific project. Though some companies have in-house sustainability specialists (often called sustainability officers), many people in this path work as external consultants.

Entering the field: Sustainability roles generally require an undergraduate degree. Environment or sustainability-related subjects are often necessary or preferred for entry-level roles, although more specialized sustainability roles, such as those in construction or engineering, may require qualifications specific to those professions.

Why we’re unlikely to recommend this career: Because sustainability specialists focus on the activities of individual organizations, we’d expect that the positive changes they’re able to influence are, for the most part, relatively small. For instance, a former executive of a footwear company reports that most of their sustainability efforts were focused on installing solar panels on their buildings and switching to LED light bulbs in their stores – which are insignificant compared to other possible improvements. (Switching out 100 halogen bulbs to energy-saving bulbs could save around 500kg of CO2 a year – the same as roughly $0.15 given to a cost-effective climate charity). Instead, the levers that would make a substantial difference are generally those that can influence more important decisions across many (or very large) organizations.

That being said, there may be specific sustainability jobs that, for the right person, could buck the trend and allow for a sizable positive environmental impact – say, at a large carbon-intensive corporation that’s unusually receptive to change. However, these roles are likely to be rare.

Conservation specialist

Salary: Around $64,000 for conservation scientists and foresters, and $32,000 for forest and conservation workers 

Job description: Conservation specialists work to preserve ecosystems, wildlife, and other natural resources. Some conservation work takes place in the field, on location in the areas being conserved. Much conservation work, though, consists of administrative or communicative work and happens behind a desk. They typically work in nonprofits or government, though some opportunities may also be available in the private sector.

Entering the field: Though the types of roles available in conservation vary quite a bit, many will require an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject area such as geography, sustainable development, biology, or other natural sciences. 

Why we’re unlikely to recommend this career: We sense that a large proportion of conservation roles aren’t targeted at the highest-priority issues related to climate change. Conservation roles tend to target the preservation of the natural world, such as preserving specific natural features like woodlands and rivers or promoting the conservation of individual species. Much of this work has value, but other efforts may be better able to help us adapt to and reduce the harmful effects of climate change at scale, or help significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

However, it’s possible that some of the very most promising conservation roles – such as those that allow large amounts of influence over key decision-makers, and that allow for broad environmental improvements, could be good options for the right person. This is provided you’re able to steer your work towards large-scale conservation issues that have wide ramifications (for instance, soil degradation, which is reducing the world’s arable land and could exacerbate food insecurity).

Job boards

Interested in learning more about specific opportunities in the climate space, or even applying for a role? Our list of job boards contains multiple climate-focused job boards, as well as other impact-focused job boards that list opportunities in climate change.

Want to take a step toward a more impactful career? Visit our Take Action page for some concrete actions you can take today to move forward.