PhD in Sustainability Science (2023)

  • Applications for 2023 entry are now closed.

    Overview of the PhD Programme

    The PhD programme in Sustainability Science is a three-year programme that aims to produce scholars who will become key researchers in the field of sustainability science. The programme takes an innovative approach to sustainability, seeking to promote a better understanding of the issues by incorporating global change perspectives, specifically those related to climate change and biodiversity.

    The programme will equip graduates with comprehensive, multidisciplinary knowledge of sustainability problems, and deepen their understanding of the role of environmental sustainability in addressing current issues related to global change. The programme provides students with unique opportunities to interact with leading scholars and policymakers through lectures, international conferences, and workshops. Students undertake problem-oriented research by playing an active role in UNU-IAS research projects, and acquire the quantitative and qualitative analytical skills necessary to understand the underlying principles of various systems involved in sustainability issues and debates. Through coursework and research, PhD students gain critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as the technical literacy required to address sustainability problems.

    The programme starts in September. By July of their third-year students are expected to complete all of the course requirements, obtaining at least 14 credits and completing a doctoral dissertation. Students can select courses from those offered by UNU-IAS, while also enjoying the opportunity to take courses at other leading universities in Japan such as the University of Tokyo, Sophia University, and International Christian University.

    Thematic Areas and Research Opportunities

    The UNU-IAS postgraduate programmes are closely interconnected with the institute’s research activities. Students have opportunities to gain practical experience by engaging actively in the research projects in UNU-IAS thematic areas. The courses offered correspond to these thematic areas under the overarching theme of sustainability.

    • Governance for Climate Change and Sustainable Development (GSD)
    • Biodiversity and Society (BDS)
    • Water & Resource Management (WRM)
    • Innovation & Education (IVE)

    Applicants are required to choose one of these thematic areas and propose relevant research to conduct at UNU-IAS. A description of each thematic area is available here.

    Student research is expected to contribute to the project with which the student chooses to be affiliated. Students hone the skills learned in the classroom by conducting research in the field alongside experts and experienced practitioners.


    The programme is taught by an expert teaching faculty comprising both UNU-IAS academic staff and invited distinguished scholars and practitioners.

    Please see the list of UNU-IAS faculty members here.

    Programme Structure & Language

    The programme is offered on a full-time basis only. The standard period to complete the degree requirements is 36 months or six academic semesters, excluding time spent on study leave of absence from the university. The PhD in Sustainability Science degree is awarded upon satisfactory completion of 14 credits and a doctoral dissertation project.

    The language of instruction is English.

    Joint Diploma Programmes

    Students of the UNU-IAS doctoral degree programme are also encouraged to pursue one of two joint diplomas in sustainability science, which are offered in partnership with the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Frontier Sciences (UT-GSFS), and with Sophia University. These diploma programmes require students to gain 18 credits, of which eight must be from courses specified by UNU-IAS and the partner university under the respective joint diploma programme. A joint diploma can only be awarded to students who successfully complete the two-year UNU-IAS master’s degree programme.

    Learning Environment

    UNU-IAS is a global university located in Tokyo, with all classes conducted in English. Sharing a building with many UN agencies, it offers a unique learning environment for its diverse and international student body. The PhD programme includes courses featuring more than 15 international guest lecturers from leading agencies and institutions, offering students opportunities to learn from their unique expertise and experience. The class sizes are sufficiently small and students benefit from interactive and personalized teaching.


    The UNU Library functions to support the research programmes, teaching and other activities of UNU-IAS. The collection contains over 27,000 books and a range of electronic resources including eBooks, eJournals, and UN related materials. All students are provided with a comprehensive library orientation session at the beginning of the course. Students also have access to the libraries of International Christian University, Ochanomizu University, Sophia University, Temple University Japan, and the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.

    Project Research Opportunities

    Our teaching programme is closely interconnected with UNU-IAS research activities across three thematic research areas (Sustainable Societies, Natural Capital and Biodiversity, Global Change and Resilience). Students have opportunities to gain practical experience by engaging actively in the institute’s research projects. Student research is expected to contribute to the project with which the student chooses to be affiliated; and students hone skills learned in the classroom by conducting research in the field alongside experts and seasoned practitioners.

    Student Support

    UNU-IAS assists students from the time of their registration to graduation, acknowledging that students may experience difficulties adjusting to a new country and culture.

    An induction programme is conducted at the beginning of the academic session, introducing students to the staff responsible for specific student services, and familiarizing students with the campus through a tour of the facilities.


    Students are provided with a handbook about living in Tokyo prior to their arrival, including information on how to find and secure accommodation.

    Academic Calendar

    The Academic Calendar shows important dates and university holidays for the academic year.

  • Admissions Policy

    The UNU-IAS PhD in Sustainability Science Programme seeks students with the following qualities:

    1. Students who possess a firm academic interest in the pressing global issues on the UN agenda, in particular those of sustainability, and a strong desire to contribute to the solving of problems concerning global environment and society through a transdisciplinary approach;

    2. Students who have adequate research skills and clear questions related to global issues as well as a strong desire to engage in research in UNU-IAS thematic areas with the potential and motivation to succeed in our programmes;

    3. Students who have the intention to proactively apply academic research findings to policymaking, and aim to pursue careers in international fields in public service or private organisations, including United Nations, multinational corporations, and non-governmental organisations as well as research academic institutions.

    Admissions Requirements

    Applicants for the PhD in Sustainability Science are required to have met ALL of the following requirements by the application deadline in order to be considered:

    1. A completed Master’s degree (or equivalent) from a recognised university or institution of higher education in a field related to sustainability in accordance with the UNU-IAS thematic areas, and a minimum of 2 years of professional field experience related to UNU-IAS research themes which was acquired after obtaining a university degree (full time equivalent);


    1. Two completed Master’s degrees, at least one of which must be in a discipline related to sustainability studies (those who expect to receive a second Master’s degree before the entrance period of September 2023 may also apply);

    2. A GPA of 2.8 or above on a 4.0 scale (equivalent to 70% on a 100 % scale) for at least one of the Master’s degrees earned; and

    3. English language proficiency.

    The minimum score requirements for English language qualifications required by UNU-IAS are:

    • 600 on TOEFL – Paper-Based Testing (PBT) OR
    • 100 on TOEFL – Internet-Based Testing (IBT) OR
    • 7.0 on IELTS – Academic format

    * Please note that TOEFL and ILTS test scores are valid for two years. Invalid test scores will not be accepted. IELTS Indicator (7.0 and above) and TOEFL iBT Home Edition (100 and above) may be accepted for those who reside in a country where either IELTS or TOEFL test services are not provided due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    UNU-IAS requires original TOEFL/IELTS score reports (no photocopies accepted).

    • TOEFL: Please order an official score report using the institution code 6991. For more information on TOEFL, please visit
    • IELTS: Please request that an official report be sent directly to UNU-IAS. For more information on IELTS, please visit
    • IELTS Indicator (7.0 and above) and TOEFL iBT Home Edition (100 and above) may be accepted for those who reside in a country where either IELTS or TOEFL test services are not provided due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


    • Application Processing Fee: None
    • Tuition Fee: USD 10,000 per year*

    To secure admission, successful applicants will be required to pay at least 50% of the tuition fee for the first academic year (USD 5,000*, non-refundable) within 10 UNU working days** after the result announcement and prior to enrolment. Students who choose to pay annually must pay a full one-year tuition payment before the commencement of the academic year. Successful applicants are required to submit all documents and pay the tuition fee by the deadline.

    The estimated total expenses for living and studying in Tokyo for 3 years are approximately USD 84,000, including tuition. Applicants must ensure adequate financial resources to meet the full costs of educational and living expenses.

    * The fee is subject to change.
    ** UNU holidays are listed in the UNU-IAS Academic Calendar.

  • Applications for 2023 entry are now closed.

    Application Deadline

    17 February 2023 (23:59 Japan Standard Time)

    Any enquiries after the deadline regarding unsuccessful submissions due to any personal circumstances, including technical difficulties, will not be accepted. Please ensure that you start your application well ahead of time.

    Application Procedure

    Application Guidelines for 2023
    Please carefully read the Guidelines for detailed application information and materials.

    To submit your application, please follow the steps below.

    All applicants:

    1) Review the checklist and prepare the application materials as listed in the Guidelines.
    2) Register online to obtain the Application Form using this link: Registration for Applications.
    3) Receive an email from UNU-IAS Admissions Office with a link to the Application Form.
    4) Submit the Application Form by the deadline (17 February 2023).
    5) Receive an automatic email to confirm that the Admissions Office has received your application.

    Applicants who are shortlisted for an interview:

    6) Receive an email regarding when and how to submit additional supporting documents.
    7) Submit the supporting documents via email by the deadline (expected to be early April 2023).
    8) Referees will receive an email from the Admissions Office with a request to provide the reference by the deadline (expected to be early April 2023).

    The application must be done in one sitting – you cannot save your application and continue it later. Before you start your Application Form, please gather all necessary materials listed in the Application Guidelines and make sure to have all of them ready to fill in the Form.

    The Application Form is composed of 12 sections of questions and essays. There are back/next buttons at the bottom of each section in the form, which enable you to go back to previous sections to edit the answered boxes before you click the submit button at the end of the form.

    Important Notes

    • All application forms must be typed and filled out in English. No handwritten or incomplete application documents will be considered.
    • All materials and documents submitted as part of an application become the property of UNU-IAS and cannot be returned.
    • If any falsification is discovered in any of the documents presented for application, admission will be revoked.
    • Unsuccessful applicants of previous years who reapply for admission must submit a completely new set of application documents, including letters of reference. No previous application materials will act as supporting documents.
    • Please submit the Application Form only once. If multiple Application Forms are submitted by one applicant, the latest form received will be considered the application. Earlier versions will be disregarded.

    Withdrawing an Application

    Those who wish to withdraw from the application process should contact the Admissions Office through the online inquiry form. When submitting the form, please ensure that “PhD Degree” is selected as the topic of your inquiry, and please use the same email address that you used when submitting your application.


    Before contacting the Admissions Office, please check the Frequently Asked Questions for an answer to your question. For any other questions, please use the inquiry form and choose “PhD Degree” as the topic.

    Please do not call the Admissions Office regarding application status or admission decisions as UNU-IAS will not release such information by telephone.

    Selection and Announcement of Results

    UNU-IAS may at any time require applicants to provide verification of the information and documents submitted as part of their application and/or additional information including, but not limited to, an interview.

    • Successful applicants will be notified by email to the address provided on Application Form. Necessary documents for the admission procedure will be sent together with a letter of acceptance. Successful applicants must submit a medical certificate, sealed official transcript(s), and a certified copy of degree certificate(s). Only successful applicants who submit the necessary documents for the entrance procedure and transfer 50% of the tuition fees for the first academic year (5,000 USD, non-refundable) within 10 UNU working days after result announcement will be admitted to the programme (please refer to UNU Holidays on Academic Calendar page). The matriculation date (early September 2023) cannot be extended, regardless of any special circumstances on the part of the student.
    • Unsuccessful applicants will NOT be individually notified by e-mail nor telephone by the Admissions Office. If you do not receive any emails from the Admissions Office regarding your application by the end of June 2023, your application has been unsuccessful. Admissions Office does not provide individual feedback on unsuccessful applications.
    • E-mail will be the primary method of contact. Therefore, it is essential for all applicants to list a valid e-mail address in the Application Form and regularly check their e-mail. Please ensure that e-mails from UNU-IAS are not filtered into the spam or junk folder. UNU-IAS will not be held responsible for unread e-mail communication.


  • The scholarships listed below are competitive and may be awarded to eligible students who have been accepted for enrolment in the UNU-IAS Master of Science in Sustainability programme. There is no separate application form for the scholarships as it is part of the main online application form for admission. Interested applicants must provide the necessary information and documents for the scholarships when applying to the master’s degree programme.

    Japan Foundation for UNU (jfUNU) Scholarship

    I. Coverage

    The jfUNU scholarship provides a monthly allowance of 120,000 JPY as a support package for a maximum of 36 months. The tuition fees may be waived for the scholarship recipients.

    II. Eligibility Requirements

    Applicants must meet the following requirements:

    • Applicants must be from developing countries* who can demonstrate a need for financial assistance.
    • Applicants who are currently living in Japan under a working visa are NOT eligible for the scholarship.
    • Applicants who are already enrolled in other PhD programmes are not eligible. This includes those who have already obtained a PhD degree at an institution other than UNU-IAS.

    *Developing countries included in the latest OECD DAC list.

    III. Additional Requirements

    • Recipients of the jfUNU Scholarship are required to write a short essay on their learning and experiences at UNU, which is submitted to the donor organisation. Before graduation, each recipient is requested to submit a note of appreciation to the donors with reflections on their future plans.
    • Recipients agree to foster collaboration with jfUNU through participating in jfUNU activities, events, and other opportunities offered to the student body.
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    • How will I be assigned a supervisor?
      Supervisors will be allocated after you enroll in the programme. You can find a list of faculty members’ profiles to see the compatibility with your research interests.
    • What is the status of the PhD programme at UNU-IAS?
      UNU-IAS is an international academic institution chartered by the United Nations to grant postgraduate degrees. The PhD programme at UNU-IAS is officially recognised as a foreign institution of higher education by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan (MEXT). In addition, UNU-IAS postgraduate degree programmes were accredited by the National Institution for Academic Degrees and University Evaluation (NIAD-UE) of Japan.
    • How long is the PhD programme? When does it start?
      The standard period of study for the PhD programme is three years. Students are expected to complete all course work and thesis on-site over a three-year period. The programme starts in September each year, with students expected to complete all the requirements by July in the third academic year after enrolment.
    • Do you allow students to attend part-time? Do you offer online courses?
      The programme is offered on a full-time basis only. Students need to reside in Tokyo for the full duration of the programme to attend lectures and seminars. UNU-IAS does not offer online degree programmes at this time. However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, all lectures and supervision are temporarily delivered online, which will continue until further notice. Students are either studying in Japan or their home countries depending on their circumstances and travel restrictions. Once you are admitted, you will receive updated information with the latest advice and guidance including the modality of instruction. UNU-IAS supports all students to discuss their travel plans and learning styles. 
    • Can I visit UNU-IAS prior to applying? Do you have an open campus day?
      Unfortunately, we are not able to hold any in-person information sessions or campus tours. Please contact us through the contact form under the current circumstances.  Regarding the open day, UNU-IAS normally organises an information session once a year and it will be announced on the UNU-IAS website and social media. 

    Thematic Areas

    • Can you give an example of research that fits into a particular thematic area?
      If you would like to study the impact of climate change on water access, you should select Water & Resource Management. If you would like to study climate governance and how it is linked to the implementation of the SDGs, you would choose Governance for Climate Change and Sustainable Development (GSD). More information about the research conducted by our previous students is available here.
    • How do I select a relevant thematic area?
      Depending on your interest, you may choose one of the four thematic areas at UNU-IAS. Governance for Climate Change and Sustainable Development (GSD) primarily focuses on the implementation and governance of SDGs and climate change, with relevant interlinkages and synergies with other global environmental issues. The Biodiversity and Society (BDS) area focuses on socio-ecological production landscapes, traditional knowledge systems and nature-culture linkages. Water & Resource Management (WRM) primarily focuses on water-related concerns, stress and access in both developed and developing countries. The Innovation and Education (IVE) specifically focuses on access to education and SDGs achievement through appropriate formal and informal education systems. Besides the prime focus of these thematic areas, there are interdisciplinary aspects associated with research. However, while choosing your thematic area, please be careful to select based on the primary focus.

    Fees and Expenses

    • Can you break down the total estimated expense of 84.000 USD required for the three year programme?
      The total expense of 84.000 USD is composed of the tuition fees (1,000 USD per year) and the living cost in Tokyo for three years (54.000 USD). The information below is the breakdown of the estimated living expenses per month.  Rent (central Tokyo): 80,000 JPY / 778 USD Utilities (gas, electricity, water): 8,000 JPY / 78 USD Compulsory National Health Insurance: 3,000 JPY/ 30 USD Communication (mobile, internet connection): 10,000 JPY/ 98 USD Transportation: 10,000 JPY / 98 USD Food: 32,000 JPY/ 98 USD Books: 9,000 JPY / 331 USD Monthly total: 152,000 JPY / 1,500 USD 1 USD = 101.3 JPY (As of 2020)  Each amount is subject to change based on the exchange rate. 
    • Are there other fees besides the 10,000 USD annual tuition?
      No processing fee is required for application.
    • Do you have a payment plan for tuition or do I need to submit a full payment?
      Students have to pay the full amount of the annual tuition (10,000 USD) before each academic year or half the amount of the annual tuition (5,000 USD) before each semester.  The tuition for the first semester (5,000 USD, non-refundable) is due within 10 UNU working days after the notification of the admissions office decision. 
    • Can I pay for tuition with a credit card?
      No. We do not accept credit card payments. Currently, the only method of payment accepted is wire transfer. Details will be provided in the acceptance letter to admitted students.

    Scholarships and Funding

    Entry Requirements

    Online Application

    Admissions Decisions

    • Can I defer my offer?
      No. Acceptance is valid only for the academic year that you applied for, and applicants have to re-apply.
    • Why was I rejected?
      Unfortunately, we cannot provide individual feedback on unsuccessful applications.
    • How are admission decisions made? What are the criteria?
      Admission decisions are based on institutional review, using a combination of factors, including academic degrees and records, essays, research plan, letters of reference, and relevant work experience (if any). UNU-ISP also considers the appropriateness of your goals to the degree programme and to the research interests of the programme's faculty.
    • I want to withdraw my application. What should I do?
      We must receive written notification from you that you would like withdraw your application via email addressed to UNU-IAS Admissions Office at indicating “PhD Application Withdrawal” in the subject line. Please use the same name and email address that you provided on your application form.
    • Can you tell me the status of my application?
      No. The Admissions Office does not reply to the inquiries regarding the application status or admission decision by email or phone during the review period of applications.

    Living in Tokyo

    • How do I apply for a Japanese visa?
      Upon acceptance into the programme, we will provide you with all the necessary information and documentation for obtaining a Japanese student visa.
    • Can you help me find housing in Tokyo?
      There are no UNU housing facilities available. Admitted students are provided with a handbook that provides information and advice on finding housing in Tokyo. Students are expected to secure their own housing for this programme.  If you would like to live in TIEC, the international residence halls, UNU-IAS will apply for a room there on your behalf. 
    • How much will it cost me to live in Tokyo?
      The annual tuition is 10,000 USD. In addition to this fee, we anticipate that it will cost you approximately 18,000 USD per year to live in Tokyo. Therefore, the total estimated cost is 54,000 USD for the three-year PhD Programme. Below we provide an estimate of average costs for monthly housing and living expenses for students in Tokyo: Rent (central Tokyo): 80,000 JPY / 778 USD Utilities (gas, electricity, water): 8,000 JPY / 78 USD Compulsory National Health Insurance: 3,000 JPY/ 30 USD Communication (mobile, internet connection): 10,000 JPY/ 98 USD Transportation: 10,000 JPY / 98 USD Food: 32,000 JPY/ 331 USD Books: 9,000 JPY / 87 USD Monthly total: 152,000 JPY / 1,500 USD

    After UNU-IAS

  • Courses

    PhD in Sustainability

    Each student is required to (i) obtain at least 14 credits, in keeping with the instructions that will be provided during orientation, and (ii) complete all degree requirements by July of his/her third year. Students must complete a dissertation on one of several UNU-IAS research themes focusing on global change and sustainability.

    Note: The curriculum is reviewed on a yearly basis, so the course offerings may not be identical to the ones listed below.

    Overview Courses (Compulsory)

    • Trans-disciplinary Graduate Research Seminar I & II*
    • Sustainability Science Research Seminar*

    Courses marked with * are compulsory for first-year MSc and PhD students.

    Elective Courses

    • The United Nations System and Sustainable Development*
    • Global Change and Planetary Boundaries*
    • Principles of International Development Project*
    • Frontier of Sustainability Science
    • Water Resources Systems
    • Environmental Science for Sustainability
    • Environmental Politics and Climate Change
    • Law and Practice of the United Nations
    • Remote Sensing, Geographical Information Systems and Analysis: Theory and Application
      Environmental Statistics and Research Methods
    • From SDGs to Climate Change: Implementation Strategies for its Adaptation and Mitigation
    • Inclusive Learning Technology for Sustainable Development
    • Studies of Socio-Ecological Production Landscapes and Seascapes

    Courses marked with * are held over a short period as part of the UNU Intensive Core (IC) Courses.

    A wide range of elective courses offered by partner universities are also available to UNU-IAS students through credit exchange arrangements.


  • Before contacting us, please read through the FAQ page as your question may already be answered there.

    If your question is not covered in the FAQ, please contact us using the online inquiry form. Please ensure that “PhD Degree” is selected as the topic of your inquiry. If you have already submitted an application to us, please use the same email address as on the inquiry form.

    United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS)
    Admissions Office
    53-70, Jingumae 5-chome
    Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-8925, Japan
    T: +81 (0)3 5467-1212