UPSC IAS Prelims Strategy for Environment and Biodiversity

The UPSC exam format has changed since 2011 and there is a significant weightage given to the Environment and biodiversity section ever since. It has become particularly crucial since the UPSC exam of 2013 when the Prelims of Indian Forest Service and Indian Civil Service were merged together. Almost 30-33% of the questions are in one way or the other related to the environment. They can be directly based on the environment or from science and technology, geography, and current affairs sections but relevant to the environment. Subjects like global warming and its impact, pollution, different species, etc. are important topics to prepare in order to ace the Environment section.

There is no defined syllabus for environment and biodiversity and aspirants have to limit and keep their preparation concise under proper guidance so that they are able to cover topics that are of maximum importance and weightage.

Important study material and sources for Environment and Biodiversity

The following are certain books and materials that are reliable to prepare for the environment and biodiversity section of UPSC exams:

  • NCERT Biology Book for Class 12- The last 4 chapters.
  • Environment-related chapters in the NCERT Geography book for 6th-10th standard.
    • NCERT Chemistry Book for class 8-10– the Chapters related to environmental phenomena.
    • Economics and budget plan and schemes related to Environment undertaken by the Government of India.
    • Locations of various national parks, biodiversity hotspots, sanctuaries, lakes, waterfalls, etc.
    • Current affairs 
    • For any other miscellaneous topics related to Environment, the Shankar IAS book can be followed.
    • India year book– follow the chapters related to environment and geography
  • Science reporter magazines
  • Environment and Ecology by P.D. Sharma
  • Yojana and Kurukshetra Magazines
  • Check the Ministry of Environment website periodically to stay updated with the latest schemes and policies.

The problem with the environment section of UPSC is that there is no defined syllabus like in history or geography. Another issue is that there is no time-tested book like conventional subjects. The strong link to current affairs makes it prudent for you to scan the daily newspapers and then make the correlation with any topic in the prescribed books.

A good method to begin the study of UPSC environment is to first go through the previous years’ question papers and analyse the environment questions. We can then classify the topics to be studied in the following six headings:

  • International initiatives: This is the most important section in the environment section of UPSC. Under this comes the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and other international conventions and organisations (both UN and non-UN), Ramsar Convention, etc.
  • National initiatives: This section includes all the governmental initiatives on the environment such as the National Solar Mission, the National Mission for Sustaining Himalayan Ecosystem, the National Mission for Sustainable Habitat, etc. You can get notes on these missions from the table at the end of this article.
  • Environment theory: For this section, you should take up a good book on the environment for UPSC and look up the important concepts that are frequently seen in the news. For example, food chain, ecotone, biogeochemical cycle, biological oxygen demand, oligotrophy, etc. For this, many IAS toppers suggest the environment compilation of Poor Man’s Friend Book. You can also check our Environment & Ecology Notes at the linked article.
  • National Parks, reserves, etc.: This is also an important source of questions in the IAS exam. For this, you should try to plot the most important parks on a map. This will help you remember where they are located. Apart from this, you should also make notes of a few important points of the frequently-occurring national parks in the news. You can regularly follow our daily news analysis in which we cover all the national parks, reserves, etc. that feature in the news.
  • Species: While studying about species, remember to use a book that gives vivid images of the species as well. This will help you remember the points easily. To know what species to read about, scan the daily news. You can also watch our daily The Hindu video news analysis.
  • Chemicals and pollutants: The UPSC can ask about the various pollutants that are effused from various sources/industries. You should also study the chief greenhouse gases.


UPSC Mains 2020: Environment Practice Questions


Environment Mains Previous Year’s Question Paper 2013-2019 PDF

Important Environment-related topics for UPSC Prelims exam

If you study the previous year’s questions thoroughly, you can recognize the different broader topics which are most frequently asked about in the UPSC Prelims. The following is the gist of all the topics that are important and must be prepared to attempt the majority of the Environment and biodiversity-related questions: Check Previous years questions papers

  • General Environmental Ecology- Pay attention to the glossary of terms that are relevant to environmental studies. Ecotone, ecological niche system, food chain, the effect of environmental deterioration on humans as well as animal kingdom are important segments.
  • Biodiversity- The interrelation of flora and fauna, the importance of human survival and sustainability, red book data, International Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural resources and Biodiversity hotspots- these topics also overlaps with your geography preparation, green revolution, 
  • Pollution- Photochemical smog, Ozone hole, Acid rain, Algal bloom, greenhouse gases, types of pollution.
  • Sustainable development- Biofertilizer, biomass gasification, biopesticides, renewable energy sources, conservation of non-renewable energy sources.
  • Conservation- Conservation of environment, climate, agriculture, soil, flora and fauna, effects of deforestation, signification movements for the conservation of biodiversity with a specific focus on India. Wildlife conservation, wetlands, biosphere reserves, and their names are also important.
  • Ecologically sensitive areas and their features- Specifically study about the Western Ghats and the Himalayan range.
  • Climate change and its impact- Different mitigation measures taken at the national and international level at recent climate change summits, and the objectives of these summits.
  • Laws, regulatory bodies, and policies for the environment and its protection at the national and international level- Environment Protection Act, Cartagena Protocol, Lima Conference, National Biodiversity Authority, Forest Rights Act, and Nagoya Protocol are particularly important.
  • All about UNESCO, FAO, UNEP
  • Ramsar Convention, Three Rio Conventions, Montreux record- Convention on Biological Diversity, UNFCCC, and United Nations Convention to Combat desertification. 1992 earth summit is also a significant topic.
  • All about Biosphere and Biome
  • Emission trading, Leakage issues and their impact, Carbon trading.

UPSC (IAS) Prelims 2020: Check Important Questions to Study for Preparation of Environment & Ecology

UPSC Prelims 2020 Expected MCQs – Environment

Topic-wise study tips for Environment and Biodiversity section in UPSC Prelims

UPSC Prelims exam is in MCQ format which makes it much easier to strategize your approach in an objective manner. The following are a few generic tips which will help you to organize and divide your study time better:

  • Recognize the question pattern and organize your study plan by emphasizing more on the topics which have maximum marks weightage.
  • Keep the study schedule simple and pick up each topic at a time and complete it thoroughly before moving on to the next.
  • Use the Orient Black Swan School Atlas latest edition whose page 35 has a list of the conservation sites, nearby rivers, important mountain ranges, and hills. There are at least two questions that are based on these facts in the Prelims paper.
  • Go through all the reading materials 2-3 times and make notes. However, use your knowledge of the question pattern to make notes that are suitable to go through for answering objective type paper.
  • Practice the last 10-15 years questions that are based on environmental issues and concepts. You are likely to get quite a few common from these papers.
  • The IAS Prelims question pattern has a comprehensive style that calls for an in-depth and comprehensive approach to the topics. When you are able to interconnect the different topics you are studying you can easily attempt the questions more accurately.

Environment and Ecology Notes with MCQ – Click Here- Download

Environment & Ecology: UPSC Prelims Exam 2020 Free PDF

Environment and Ecology Study Material for IAS

Environment and Ecology Current Affairs

Topic-wise segments to focus on

The following is a table containing the major topics and the sub-segments that you must focus on from these topics to attempt the maximum questions from environment section:

Biodiversity and ConservationTypes of biodiversity
Different approach to protecting the biodiversity in India
Causes of loss of biodiversity
Different protection networks like sanctuaries, national parks
Criticism against biodiversity hotspots
Bio-piracy and bioprospecting issues
International and national conservation initiatives
Relevant laws and policies- national and international
Biodiversity Act 2002
International/National laws for EnvironmentRecent meetings and UN Initiatives
Indian policies like Pollution Control Act and the changes and updates in them.
Important legal terminologies related to environment-related acts and policies.
Wetland conservation initiatives- particularly important for UPSC
Different conventions, policies, and acts related to sustainable development
Different organizations and their roles in protection of the environment. Some important organizations include UNESCO, World Bank, Biocarbon Fund Initiative, Green Bonds, Green Climate Funds, etc.
Environmental Terminologies and topics important and related to pollution/conservation and contemporary environmental scenarioImportant environmental terms and names
Problems with organic pollutants
Impact and content of acid rain
Causes of ozone depletion and its prevention
Global dimming
Different diseases and their environmental impact
Issues with oil zappers
Current Environmental issuesAir quality control and indoor air degradation
Land use and degradation
Ground-level ozone formation
Solid waste management
National water policy
Bharat Stage Mission
Water and carbon Footprints
Ecological debts
Organic farming and the use of vermicompost
Polar amplification
Impact of marine pollution
Impact of plastic waste
Ocean acidification

When you have a clear idea about the specific topics that need to be approached, you can easily prepare the environment and biodiversity section in a small amount of time. As you solve questions, you will find many of them can be answered from your awareness about the environment on a day to day basis. Hence, following the news and reading the newspaper can also have a positive impact on your preparation for UPSC Prelims.

All the Best!

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