“Where should I go to work to have the most impact?”

We hear from students and job seekers all the time. As a cheat sheet to help you in this process, we’ve developed five Climate Work Tiers to provide some scaffolding for job seekers to navigate the growing number of opportunities in the climate work space and distill how impactful a job may be. We encourage job seekers moving into climate to find work in organizations that are pursuing meaningful, scalable and science-backed solutions that are deployable now.

We designed these five tiers using the following principles: 


1. Start with emissions
To start, greenhouse gas emissions come from three main sectors (see a more detailed breakdown here): 

  • Energy (including buildings, transport, and industry) is 73% of annual emissions
  • Agriculture, Forestry, and Land Use is 18% of annual emissions
  • Direct industry emissions (chemicals and cement) is 5.2% of annual emissions

This is a good starting point to know where to focus your work if you want to maximize emissions reductions. You’ll see these emissions areas reflected in the tiering process. 

Both carbon dioxide removal and adaptation are critically important areas of work as well, but they are both additional to emissions reductions. Without rapid emissions reductions, other solutions will not help us address climate change on their own.   

2. Consider sectors and levers
By sectors, we mean energy; food, agriculture and land-use; and industry; as well as carbon removal. Each of these has many sub-sectors. 

By levers we mean cross-cutting work like communications, education, finance, law, planning, design and politics, that don’t make it into sectoral approaches but are essential to accelerating the deployment of these solutions. 

While much of the needed climate action requires the physical work of building and installing technologies, stewarding land and changing land management practices, and stopping the burning of fossil fuels, to make this work happen effectively we also need creatives, teachers, and campaigners changing worldviews and ensuring our solutions are deployed. 

When it comes to organizations and roles in them, some may be cross-cutting, focused on a specific sector and a lever, like communications in a clean energy advocacy non-profit. We’ve had to necessarily simplify and categorize organizations and roles as one or the other in our tiers below.    

3. It’s about levels of discernment
Think of the tiers below as representing increasing levels of need for careful discernment. But there are bad actors at all tiers, so we strongly encourage you to do your homework on any organization carefully when you are considering a shift into a climate career. Later in this document, we suggest some guiding questions you can use to evaluate organizations and their climate commitments. 

4. Find the right job for you
There is no silver bullet for addressing climate change. We need many people working on many solutions, and working with their heads, hearts and hands. Advocates, artists, engineers, business operators, entrepreneurs, influencers, lawyers, policymakers, scientists, and educators all across the globe have a role to play. You can’t be all of these people at once. At the end of our Learning for Action course, we share a quote from Beth Sawin, the Founder and Director of the Multisolving Institute:“Find your place in the work to create a just and livable future and do that with care and attention, trusting in the knowledge that unseen others are also playing their roles.”

5. Don’t forget justice 
Irrespective of tier or climate impact, many organizations are failing to deliver on justice. Clean energy companies, for example, may be trampling on indigenous rights to build wind farms. Some solar companies may be cooperatives, where all their customers share in the profits. Others may only return profits to a narrow set of shareholders.

It is beyond the scope of this report to capture how organizations are delivering on justice, and our tiers do not capture this. But we strongly encourage you to ask questions and do your homework. 

Tier 1: Necessary and Immediate Emissions Reductions 

 We classify Tier 1 jobs as all roles at organizations that are exclusively and directly focused on the delivery of demonstrable high-impact and essential solutions that deliver immediate, scaleable emissions reductions

  • Exclusive, because that means you won’t face competing organizational priorities internally; directly meaning that the organizations are doing the work of development and distribution of these solutions.
  • Demonstrable high-impact, because you want to work on a solution supported by science.
  • Essential, meaning that they are included in every (or almost every) decarbonization model out there. 
  • Immediate, because, with 1.5 degrees C of warming baked in, every fraction of a degree counts.
  • Scaleable, because this is a giant, global problem!

One note: there are meaningful climate jobs across all sectors: the private sector, in government, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), but the bulk of climate employment by number of roles is in the private sector, and so the majority of organizations that we give as examples and on the 45,000+ jobs on the Terra.do jobs board reflect this. 

These solutions areas are as follows and includes some example organizations: 

Food & Ag (Plant-based/Alternative Protein Production, Regenerative Agriculture (non-meat), Ecological High-tech Farming (e.g. Dutch greenhouses), Agro-forestry Solutions, Food-Waste Reduction)
Oatly | Meati | THIS | Klim | Regrow Ag | Climate Farmers | Gotham Greens | BrightFarms | Plenty Propagate | Too Good To Go | Misfits Market | Goodr | Daiya Foods | GOURMEY | Revol Greens | KeHE Distributors | Pivot Bio | Priment | ​​Kula Bio | Planted Foods | HigherSteaks | Reel Foods

Clean Energy, Transport, and Efficiency (including Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Green Hydrogen, Mini/Micro Hydro, Battery Storage, Energy Efficiency, Electrified Transport, small-scale Bioenergy, Clean Cookstoves)
Posigen | Maxeon | Mainstream | Dandelion | Fervo | Ormat | Symbio | Form | Northvolt  |Vestas | Reactivate | National Grid | Iontra | Canadian Solar | Clearway | Strata Solar | Natron | Qcells | Heliogen | Monolith | NextEra | Brightcore | Fluence |Enpal | Statkraft | Everlight Solar

Non-CO2 GHG Emissions Reduction (e.g. methane, HFCs)
Kairos Aerospace | Mango Materials | Symbrosia | Montauk Renewables | Alga

Environmental NGOs (including policy, advocacy, and law) and education organizations focused on accelerating and advancing Tier 1 solutions areas through policy and political change.
World Resources Institute | Earthjustice | Surfrider Foundation | Advanced Energy Economy | Ember | EDF | Mighty Earth | Good Food Institute | RFF | UCS | Climate Power

Finance that is 100% focused on these solutions areas (e.g. Renewable Energy Finance Funds). 
Greenbacker Group | Climate Works | Galvanize | The Radical Fund | Clean Energy Finance Corporation | EIP | Earth Finance | Climate Investment Funds | New Energy Nexus 

Organizations providing the supporting technologies or infrastructure to accelerate the deployment of these solutions. 
Nexamp | Zanskar | Global Wind Service | Octopus Energy | Marble Studio | Afresh | Agrible

If you are interested in looking granularly at specific solutions in Tier 1, we recommend looking at the Crane Tool, which allows you to model the potential GHG impact of different climate solutions technologies against each other.

Tier 2: Longer-Term Solutions 

We classify Tier 2 jobs as all roles at organizations that are exclusively focused on the delivery of potentially high-leverage solutions addressing hard-to-decarbonize areas that are necessary to reach net-zero emissions but whose achievable impact is unknown. We also include deeper research work, such as that done at national labs or universities.   

Additionally, the degree to which we need these solutions to stay close to 1.5 C will depend on how successful we are at scaling and deploying Tier 1 solutions. These solutions are: 

Long-Duration Storage Carbon Dioxide Removal (Direct Air Capture, not CCS) and permanent removal/long-duration storage offsets
Climeworks | CREW Carbon | Everest | Holy Grail | Avnos | Lithos Carbon

Sustainable Aviation Fuels (no biofuels)
Universal Hydrogen | Lilium | Beta Technologies | Whisper | ZeroAvia | Pyka

Clean Cement, Clean Steel, Green Ammonia Fertilizers 
Boston Metal | Brimstone | Amogy | Carbon Upcycling | CarbonBuilt | Sublime | Ammobia

Deep tech, materials and science research in universities or national lab 
Pacific Northwest | Oak Ridge | National Renewable Energy LabArgonne | Idaho NL

Why is CDR here? We’ll offer a bit of insight from our Carbon Removal modules from the Terra.do Learning for Action fellowship.

Yes, ​The IPCC's 2022 report on mitigation (WG3) shows that removal will likely be necessary if we are going to avoid the worst effects of climate change. A third of non-CO2 emissions (methane and nitrous oxide) will be hard or prohibitively expensive to fully eliminate, making CDR for non-CO2 emissions a necessary counterbalance. The same goes for some amount of CO2 emissions from hard-to-decarbonize sectors, though the extent of this problem depends on just how we adjust our behavior and improve our technologies. 

But removal is simply no substitute for mitigation and climate scientist Glen Peters argues CDR is practically pointless "unless there is rapid mitigation.” Recent estimates by Project Drawdown suggest that 96% of climate action needs to be about mitigation and 4% removal. When you’re thinking about deploying your talents to address climate change, it's worth asking if you want to focus on new, untested, and expensive technologies when there are so many cheap mitigation opportunities available. From a climate perspective, cutting emissions is the safer bet.

The Learning for Action modules covers much more, including the assumptions about scaling baked into many models, the difference between temporary and permanent removal,  justice concerns, and a review of where the best CDR work is being done.

Tier 3: Impact* 

We call Tier 3 “impact with an asterisk” because these are climate jobs where the impact highly depends on the individual organizations involved. These jobs have the potential to be highly meaningful and impactful, but that hinges on the sincerity of the commitment and actual work of the organization. 

We break Tier 3 into two groups: A few entire sectors fall into this category, and some roles fall into this category. If you’re looking for a job in one of these sectors or in one of the listed role types, it’s important to get a clear understanding of the actual impact the job has or can have and make a decision as to whether it's the right organization for you. You can usually ask questions in a job interview to assess this. All of these opportunities will require you to make a judgment call as to whether the work is likely to have tangible climate impact. 

Nature-based Solutions projects
(e.g. Blue Economy/Oceans, Ecosystem Restoration, Forest Management, Forest Conservations, Deforestation Prevention, Farmland Restoration, Nutrient Management).

  • Is the organization developing verifiable on-the-ground projects or simply trading in carbon credits? 
  • Has anyone at the company been to any projects on the ground and seen them for a meaningful period of time? 
  • How does the company address additionality, leakage, and permanence? 

Carbon Project Monitoring  

  • Is this organization unlocking capital to flow to tangible on-the-ground nature-based solutions or allowing for greenwashing? 
  • Has anyone at the company been to any projects on the ground and seen them for a meaningful period of time? 

Energy Companies or Utilities 

  • Is the utility or energy company committed to decarbonization and acting on it? Or are they working to delay the transition away from coal, oil, and gas—whether through direct lobbying at the state or federal level, public messaging, funding of campaigns and political parties, or membership in trade groups? 

Note: You can find an analysis of major US investor-owned utilities here or via the Sierra Club’s 2023 Utility Climate Pledges Report

Jobs working on Tier 1 or 2 solutions divisions in organizations that are not primarily dedicated to those solutions

  • Is this role/division greenwashing the other high-carbon activities of the organization or is its purpose to help transform the organization? 

Sustainability roles in non-climate solutions-focused organizations
(including ESG in non-financial organizations)

Jobs providing climate consultancy services that require other organizations to act on the services in order to have meaningful climate impact
(e.g. environmental software, energy management systems, utility data companies, environmental consulting firms, GHG accounting/consulting services or software companies, climate risk assessment organizations, and/or sustainability talent providers) 

  • Are there credible examples of how clients have had tangible climate impact through the company’s products/services? 
  • Does the organization’s product or service ultimately lead to decarbonization activities (good) or the purchase of offsets (bad)? 
  • How would the company approach a client that uses its services for greenwashing instead of real action? 

City, state, or federal government roles

  • What are the current climate commitments and policies for that country, state, or city? 
  • Is leadership serious about those commitments and policies? 

Materials efficiency or optimization roles (e.g. Circular Economy roles) 

  • Is the organization committed to decarbonization to scale?   
  • Is the work having a material and sustainable impact on emissions reduction? 
  • Does the role have carbon or climate KPIs?

Of course, even a low-climate-commitment organization can transform into a high-climate-commitment organization through your advocacy and effort! We have seen many Learning for Action graduates go on to work in roles in these organizations, and have heard wonderful stories of them having significant impact and helping a company that wasn’t focused on sustainability to integrate it into their mission, services, and products; at the same time, we have also had many calls with frustrated graduates not seeing any meaningful impact happening who are already looking for their next job. 

Because these are some of the more difficult areas to navigate to have impact—but where there is still strong potential for impact—we have built out a catalog of skills training courses to help individuals be more effective in such roles.

The following Corporate Climate Skills courses can help consultants for or individuals in organizations trying to decarbonize be more effective:

If you’re interested in becoming a better advocate for clean energy or food and agriculture solutions in a private sector, government, or utility role, we recommend our Energy Decarbonization Pathways and Tools and/or Soil Health and Regenerative Farming courses. 

Why are Nature-Based solutions here? We’ll offer a bit of insight from our NBS module in Learning for Action. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines NBS as "actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits." (Remarkably, there's a case to be made that no one really knows what "nature-based solutions" are.)The "drawdown potential" of NBS is uncertain, and strong evidence suggests it’s been overestimated. Additional risks facing NBS include:

  • Additionality: is it verifiable that a project would not have happened without new payments or finance)
  • Leakage: a project like planting mangroves or trees on formerly deforested lands could simply displace the original ecosystem-destroying activity elsewhere
  • Permanence: how long, and how reliably, the carbon will be stored)
  • Causing economic and political harm to forest-dwelling people.

Beware of online schemes promising some guaranteed long-term forest-based carbon storage in exchange for a handful of dollars. In some cases, entirely fictional forests are being used for greenwashing. There are good projects on the ground that need financing, but organizations should not be avoiding their own challenges. 

 We must stop deforestation and expand forest cover. And the lack of scientific certainty around carbon fluxes is no reason to scale back on restoration efforts, be they for forests, oceans, coasts, or soils. We must conserve and restore nature for its own sake and for all the varied services nature provides. At the same time, our lack of clear understanding of how much carbon nature can remove cautions against over-relying on nature-based solutions to solve our climate crisis.

 The Learning for Action modules covers much more, including the importance of forests for climate stability, challenges and risks with forests as a climate solution, best practices and case studies in forest conservation and management, important new policies for forests, sequestration on peatlands and farms, and ocean and coastal solutions.

Tier 4: Silver Bullets

First, let us underscore two key points:

  1. Climate change cannot only be addressed from the comfort of our homes on computers (though a lot of the work can be done there). This is a physical world problem! 
  2. There is no one silver bullet for addressing climate change.

We encourage our fellows to be extremely wary of any solution that begins and ends on a computer, or one that promises that one solution will solve all our problems. These tend to be areas that attract a lot of attention and hype, because they tempt us with the false idea that we click a button or build one technology and the problem goes away. The debates about these technologies are extensive on the internet but minimal amongst climate scientists because they are not meaningful solutions to address the climate crisis. For these, we link resources for further reading.

Non-permanent offsets/Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs):
While there are “better” way to do offsets, a 2023 investigation suggests less than 10% are linked to real carbon reductions. Recent research found that two-thirds of the emissions reductions tied to RECs were unlikely to have brought more renewable energy to the grid or lowered greenhouse gas emissions, and greenwashing organizations’ 100% renewable energy claims. 

Web3 Climate/DAO
“Many crypto credits are little more than a fancy repackaging of existing carbon credits” says Khaled Diab, communications director at the NGO Carbon Market Watch

ESG Investing
ESG Investing is not designed to save the planet. Finance loves higher fees from ESG funds and the fine print is that fund selection is focused on the impact of the changing world on a company P&L, not the reverse. Tariq Fancy argues that if BlackRock couldn’t do it well, odds are nobody else can.

Nuclear Fusion
Nuclear fusion won’t arrive in time to fix climate change. Fusion, if the technology emerges, is at best predicted to reach scale around 2050 (very optimistically), too late to address the immediate needs of climate action. The IEA concludes that “the hurdles to investment in new nuclear projects in advanced economies are daunting.” 

Bioenergy is not a solution to climate change, except on a small-scale (e.g. community biogas systems). While it’s potentially renewable, it can often be net carbon-emitting and can potentially threaten food security by competing for land. 

If you are talking to companies working in these spaces (which we do not encourage), it's essential for you to approach them with 10x the skepticism that you approach any company in Tier 3. 

Tier 5: Black Snakes

Fossil. Fuel. Companies. 

Yes, these companies may have power and influence, and “if” you could convince them to stop all new exploration (and not sell their leases to other companies), retire assets, and invest fully in renewables, you’d be amazing! Ørsted did it (and they’re hiring). But there’s a reason young people aren’t doing this. And executives who tried to do it quit. If you’re in a room with these folks, the questions should be quite simple (these are borrowed from climate investor Tom O’Keefe):  

  • How much of your balance sheet is being invested in clean energy sources? 
  • Prove that you’re not funding climate denial and are committed to not doing so. 
  • Show that you are credibly on track for your plan to fully phase out fossil fuels—and by when?

We recognize there are entire countries where the only clean energy jobs may be in fossil fuel companies, and people may have little choice for alternative employment opportunities. We have graduates from these countries take these roles and we cheer them on, knowing they will be advocates for change. Choice in employment is a privilege, and as a global organization serving very diverse learners and career-switchers, we are keenly aware of this.   

What about Adaptation?  All of the solutions above are about mitigation of climate change. But we also need to adapt as the impacts of climate change intensify—for example, even if we rapidly lower CO2 emissions, some amount of glacial melt is now guaranteed. Adaptation can include large infrastructure projects (think floodwalls), but will also look like "defensible spaces" around homes in wildfire-prone areas or new air conditioners in places that never needed them until recently. Further, we need to consider how communities can safeguard themselves socially and economically in the face of worsening disasters.

Jobs in adaptation are difficult to identify and organize. Adaptation roles exist in many of the sectors above: energy companies adapting to increased wildfire risk; food and agriculture organizations adapting to drought risk; governments and NGOs addressing the impacts of flooding or more frequent and intense heat waves on communities; and companies changing their supply chains to be more resilient to climate shocks.

Many adaptation jobs are in disaster aid organizations and government agencies, as well as NGOs, and nonprofits. Some examples include UNEP, the Northern Beaches Council, Dairy Australia, NatureServe, and the Los Angeles Conservation Corps. There are also for-profit companies that work in the space, such as Spherical, AECOM, Floodbase, and Varaha

The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report’s Summary for Policymakers notes that: "Most observed adaptation is fragmented, small in scale, incremental, sector-specific, designed to respond to current impacts or near-term risks, and focused more on planning rather than implementation." We encourage you to approach these organizations with the same sort of lens you have with Tier 3 organizations. Some adaptation projects are outstanding; others have little to no real impact.   

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good

There’s no perfect climate job or organization. But there is more than likely a right next one for you on your journey. More often than not, your own skill set will likely determine where you can have the most impact. And doing climate work calls for more than just doing your job: oftentimes you’ll need to also be an advocate (if you aren’t already).

As you head out into the brave new world of the fast-growing climate economy, it’s important to know where the traps are and how to navigate them, especially given the importance of this decade for climate action. The next job you take in climate matters. 

So, with that, go forth and find your spot in the climate movement! Whether you’re into finance, forestry, law, or software engineering, there is a spot for you to work on climate change using your unique skills. If you’re interested in learning more about the frameworks behind these tiers or in accelerating your career in the climate movement, join the Terra.do Learning for Action fellowship.