Environment is a small topic with a vast impact. It turned out to be very important after the year 2013 when the UPSC combined Preliminary examination of IFoS with Indian civil services. Over the past few years, about 30 to 33% of questions were asked from Environment, if we take into consideration the Current affairs, geography and Science & technology part linked to Environment. Besides this, the changes in Environment of late, such as pollution, global warming and how this affected various species made the subject much more important.


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There are a few basic books that are to be covered:


NCERT Textbooks


  • NCERT Class 12 Biology textbook: Prioritise the last four chapters linked to the basic terms and concepts.
  • NCERT Class 6 to 10 Geography textbook: Cover Environment-related chapters.
  • NCERT Class 8 to 10 Science textbook(Chemistry): Cover Environment-related chapters.


These are your go-to reference books to understand the basics. The language used in NECRT books is comprehensible with the right amount of technical jargon.


While you read from NCERT books, you need to be selective. Choose chapters relevant to Environment, climate change and biodiversity.


Other Relevant Resources


  • CSAT Paper 1 Environmental ecology, biodiversity and climate change by R C Mishra and Archana Mishra.
  • CSAT Environmental ecology, biodiversity and Climate change
  • Schemes of government with regard to Environment, Economic survey and budget for current planning.
  • Benny Joseph’s environmental studies
  • Erach Bharucha’s Textbook of environmental studies for Undergraduate courses
  • R Gupta’s Objective environmental sciences
  • CBSE UGC NET Environmental Sciences Paper 2 and 3 by Dr B B Singh and Ravindra Pandey
  • R Rajagopalan’s Environmental studies from crisis to cure Edition 2
  • Atlas for studying facts such as the position of Ramsar sites, lakes, biodiversity hotspots and national parks.
  • P.D Sharma’s Ecology and Environment: Even though the NCERT textbooks help build a strong foundation, as a beginner, you will be mainly not aware of multiple concepts and terms. But by taking up a strong reference book, such as Ecology and environment, you can bridge this gap. This book by P D Sharma is a go-to study material for all IAS aspirants for environment. The book includes all vital topics and is written in a comprehensible language.




Apart from the aforementioned resources, you need to also refer to magazines such as:


  • Pratiyogita Darpan
  • Down to earth
  • Science reporter

Make sure that you place the aforementioned resources strategically in your day-to-day study hours. It will help you write better answers from this section for the exam.


UPSC Environment Syllabus 


Topic Subtopics
Conservation Biodiversity, Types of biodiversity: Ecosystem, genetic, species and more.Causes for the loss of biodiversityImportance of biodiversity: Bioresources of economic importance, Social benefits, ecosystem services and more.Ex-situ and In-situ conservationEcological hotspotsEco-sensitive areasInternational agreement and groupingsNational guidelines, legislations and other programmes
Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) EIA, Overview of the EIA processIndian guidelines and LegislationsBenefits and need of EIADrawbacks of EIA in IndiaMeasures to make EIA successful
Environmental Pollution and Environmental Degradation Various types of pollutants and pollutionEffect of degradation and pollutionGlobal warming and greenhouse gas effectOzone hole and Ozone layer depletionHazardous wasteDesertification, EutrophicationAcid rainSources and reasons of Degradation and pollutionPrevention and control of degradation and pollutionNational environment agencies, policies and legislationInternational environment agencies and agreements
Disaster Management Types and management of disasterInitiatives by the Government for disaster managementDisaster management in the community level


As it’s evident from the table above, the syllabus especially states environment as one of the subjects. Therefore, it’s crucial. Added to that, an additional factor that makes it crucial and challenging is that environment is strongly related to UPSC current affairs.


Terms such as climatic change, natural calamities, sustainable development, and ecosystem are often featured in the news.


Topics of the environment can be connected with key theories of the rest of the subjects such as geography, botany, zoology and economy.


Environment also overlaps with governance and policy as a lot of schemes by the government are connected to conserving the environment and natural resources, preservation of fauna and flora as well as decreasing pollution and more.


Topics of Importance in Environment


The major topics of this subject can be divided into sub-topics such as:


Ecology related topics- Be familiar with concepts such as Ecological adaptation, keystone species, Thermoregulation, niche, food chain, Biomes, atmosphere, Food chain, biogeochemical cycles, food web, homeostasis and acclimatisation.


Biodiversity related topics- Be familiar with concepts such as Biosphere reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, flora and fauna, national parks, in-situ & ex-situ conservation IUCN, summits, endangered species, biodiversity hotspots, exotic species etc.


Environment degradation/climate change and pollution-related topics- The familiarity with topics such as pollution-related diseases such as Minamata disease, pollution control, algal bloom or eutrophication, biological magnification, global warming, acid rain, ozone hole depletion, different environmental laws such as Kyoto Protocol, Montreal protocol, Ramsar conventions and connected current changes are needed.


Understand what are natural resources, the conservation of natural resources, and environmental laws connected to it. Besides this, the familiarity of environmental ethics is required.


Relevance of Environment in UPSC


Both from the prelims and mains viewpoint, the subject is vital for the IAS exam.


  • For the prelims exam, a minimum of 15 to 20 questions directly or indirectly connected to the environment part is asked every year.
  • Whereas for the mains exam, an aspirant can expect two to three questions from environment. Added to that, a sound understanding of the concepts in environment help you write better answers to questions from other UPSC subjects.
  • Environment is equally important for the personality test as well- the interview board can ask questions from an environmental perspective.
  • Questions from environment section constitute around 25 to 30% of GS.
  • For the prelims exams, the number of questions asked from the environment section remains to be more than 10% for the last 9 years.


How to Study Environment for Prelims Exam


The questions asked for IAS prelims exam has an all-inclusive style which calls for comprehensive and detailed approach to the topics. When you’re able to link various topics that you cover, you can attempt the questions accurately very well.


Environment syllabus for Prelims exam is General issues on Bio-diversity, Climate change and environmental ecology.


  • You need to read all the basic books for a minimum of 2 or 3 times. For certain topics, such as International agreements, conventions and more, notes making is crucial. While you make notes, use important phrases and keywords. One crucial thing regarding note making is that it needs to be exam-oriented.
  • Different facts are to be covered, such as the location of wildlife sanctuaries, Ramsar sites and national parks.
    You need to complete current affairs in a comprehensive manner since recent questions connected to Environment are asked in an analytical way.
  • The practice of previous years question papers of a minimum of 10 to 15 years is very essential. It’s crucial to know about the demand of UPSC besides building capacity of solving previous year questions through knowledge and elimination method. You can even solve questions from various other sources such as test series, practice books and more. Practising questions from test series helps in quick revision of what you’ve learned and also in avoiding silly mistakes.
  • As an IAS aspirant, you need to limit your sources since there are a plethora of books which you can avail and without the right guidance you can get perplexed regarding the sources.
  • The most essential part is repeated revision and it should never be missed.

You need to build an ability to read, study, retain and connect static topics with that of the current/dynamic topics.


Different questions of UPSC linked to Himalayan nettle, SAFAR, Methane Hydrate, AQI and Hydrogen enriched CNG of the IAS Prelims 2019 provides a glimpse on the relevance of current affairs.


How to Study Environment For Mains Exam


The requirements for Mains quite vary from Prelims exam. Environment syllabus for Mains exam is:


  1. Environmental pollution and degradation
  2. Environmental impact assessment
  3. Conservation


  • For Mains exam, besides reading and learning, the analysis part is much crucial. There needs to be clarity concerning any topic.
  • Stick to a few study materials. The topic needs to finished which is significant with respect to mains such as environmental impact assessment etc.
  • For the Mains exam, practising answer writing is crucial. You can do so in different ways such as attempting test series, practising answer writing at home, or even by enrolling in any coaching centres. Practising answer writing and analysing it is an effective study strategy besides getting the answers checked by a senior or teacher. It’s an effective studying and improvement method and will certainly improve your score by a vast margin.
  • Besides this, revising syllabus very often is much important.
  • Practise MCQs. This not just helps you with revision but also to review your knowledge.
  • Including case studies while writing answers can make it good quality answers- for instance, Groundwater contamination in Punjab and cancer deaths related to it.
  • At this online era, studies are incomplete without online resources. Different online resources must be referred to such as national & international websites related to biodiversity and ecology, Ministry of environment official website, IUCN website etc, but in an exam-oriented way. The environment ministry is accountable for all the laws, identifying and solving issues concerning the environment, as well as law practices.


How to Study Environment For Personality Test


Once you’re done with studying for Prelims and mains exam, studying for personality test is easy in which knowledge, besides own balanced positive view is needed. You need to deliver the answer in front of the interview board in a confident yet clear manner.


Effective Study Tips For Environment Subject For Personality Test


  • Regularly read national newspapers, such as The Hindu and Indian express. Just as covering any other UPSC subjects, the environment section also calls for a regular reading of national newspapers to keep abreast with all the latest issues linked to the topic.
  • While you read the Hindu, you must be able to choose and study merely the important issues.
  • Try to develop a conceptual knowledge base concerning vital news pieces related to environment
  • For instance, you need to read the body of a news article on Central pollution Control board.
  • Do not be taken aback to find questions which technically fall under other UPSC subjects such as geography, zoology or biology to be asked from environment.
  • A good combination of a dynamic and static portion is a simple approach for topics connected to environment. You should aim to create the perfect mix of dynamic and static concepts.


Through this way, you can study Environment in an inclusive way. It’s a crucial subject and should not be left out in any phase of study owing to the different actions taken both at international and national levels, as well as the changing scenario of Environment recently.