Environment Vocabulary

Learning a good range of environment vocabulary is a must as the environment is one of the most common topics to feature in the IELTS exam.

It could be the main topic of your speaking test, you may be asked to write about it, or the environment could come up in either the reading or listening parts of your exam.

You might also need environment vocabulary when answering questions about other subjects such as where you live, transportation or travel.

Lush rainforest vegetation.

This page includes four things to help you to prepare:

  • IELTS-style questions on the topic of the environment
  • Sample answers
  • A list of common environment vocabulary with definitions & sample sentences
  • Links to online reading and listening resources

I’ve divided this list of common environment vocabulary into different categories:

Set 1: Key definitions

Set 2: The natural world – wildlife, plant life & habitats

Set 3: The natural world – resources & the environment

Set 4: Environmental issues

Set 5: Protecting the environment

Set 6: Other useful words

You’ll find PDF downloads of both the questions and sample answers and the environment vocabulary list at the bottom of the respective sections.

The questions relate to the Speaking test because this part of the exam offers the broadest range of possible questions on the topic of the environment. They give the best opportunity for me to demonstrate the vocabulary and for you to practise using it.

I’ve included IELTS-style questions and answers for all three parts of the Speaking test. I've highlighted key words and phrases in bold.

You'll find these words and phrases, and many others, in the vocabulary list beneath. The list also includes explanations and sample sentences and there’s an audio to listen to the pronunciation.

The environment vocabulary list contains words and phrases relevant to all parts of the IELTS exam.

Finally, at the bottom of the page I've added links to topical articles, short videos and podcasts that will help you to improve both your environment vocabulary and your reading and listening skills.

Here’s something to think about as you work through this page:

Learning vocabulary for IELTS doesn’t just involve learning new words and phrases, it’s also about how you use vocabulary to develop good answers.

IELTS-Style Speaking Test Questions and Answers

Common environment vocabulary is highlighted in bold.

Part 1

1)  Do you think pollution is a big problem nowadays?

I think it’s a massive issue. It really worries me how much damage we are doing to the natural environment, especially how we pollute the oceans with plastic waste and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.


2)  What do you do to prevent the environment from pollution?

I recycle as much rubbish as I can and I walk when possible rather than driving or taking public transport in order to reduce my carbon footprint.


3)  Are you worried about climate change? 

Most definitely. In my country, the weather is changing because of global warming and we get more bad storms than before. Governments and individuals need to do more to combat climate change.


4)  Do you use renewable energy?

Not at the moment. I wanted to change my house to solar power but the panels are too expensive for me to buy so, unfortunately, I still use fossil fuels.


5)  Do you take an interest in nature?

I love all wildlife. My garden is the perfect habitat for hedgehogs. They are nocturnal but if I go out after dark with a torch I sometimes see one.

Solar power is a form of renewable energy.

Part 2

Describe an environmental problem you’ve heard about.

You should say:

  • what it is
  • how long it has existed
  • how it affects people’s lives

and explain how you think the problem will develop in the future.

There are a number of serious environmental problems being covered by the media at the moment but the one I’d like to talk about is the deforestation of vast areas of rainforest to grow palm oil. I’m not sure when it started to become a concern to environmentalist but I know that they’re increasingly worried about it.

This land clearance is on a huge scale and the forest is often just burned down. This sends large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere which contribute to global warming and climate change. This affects everyone on the planet.

Just as important is the effect on the native wildlife. Deforestation to grow palm oil in Borneo and Sumatra destroys the natural habitat of orang utans as well as many other animals. Conservationists estimate that unless the situation changes, the orang utan and Sumatran tiger could become extinct in the wild in the next 5-10 years. In fact, a third of all mammal species in Indonesia are thought to be critically endangered because of this type of unsustainable development.

Furthermore, the oil palm plantations that replace the rich vegetation of the rainforest support very low levels of biodiversity and create a totally a different ecosystem. I don’t fully understand why the loss of biodiversity is such a problem but I did read somewhere that it means that our food crops are more vulnerable to pest and diseases. This could lead to serious food shortages in the future.

I think that the palm oil industry and its associated problems are going to be difficult to change. Perhaps it’s consumers who can have the biggest impact by refusing to buy products containing palm oil which is in around 40-50% of common household products in many developed countries. In the UK, there’s already one major food retailer that has promised to ban palm oil in its own products. This I really encouraging and I hope other companies will do the same soon.

Deforestation for a palm oil plantation.

Part 3


1)  What do you consider to be the most serious environmental issues in the world today?

I’d say that global warming and climate change have to come top of the list because these threaten the very future of life on our planet. There are many contributing factors such as the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation for agriculture and due to illegal logging, and large-scale livestock farming.

Another serious concern is for the marine life in our oceans which is under serious threat from pollution, especially waste plastics. These kill or injure thousands of sea creatures every day. Many species of wildlife are also being pushed to the verge of extinction by poaching. It’s shocking to think that beautiful animals such as the tiger are dying out in the wild because of the actions of human beings.

There are many other environmental problems that we need to solve but these are the ones I believe to be the most serious.

2)  Do you think it is the responsibility of governments alone to protect the environment?

Not at all. It’s the responsibility of every individual to do their bit to protect the environment. Of course, governments can do a lot to address environmental issues through their policies and the laws they pass. I certainly think that governments should put more pressure on industry to use clean energy and to cut down on the emission of greenhouse gases that pollute the atmosphere and add to global warming.

In my country, the government encourages people to live an environmentally-friendly lifestyle by providing recycling services and facilities and subsidising renewable energy by giving grants to people wanting to run their homes on solar power. If more people took advantage of this, it would certainly help the environment.

3)  What measures can individuals take to protect the environment?

There are many ways that each of us can help to care for the natural environment. Firstly, we can recycle as much of our rubbish as possible or, even better, cut down on our use of disposable products.

Secondly, we can become more energy-efficient by insulating our homes, turning off lights when they don’t need to be on and making short journeys by bicycle or on foot rather than going by vehicle. Cutting down on car journeys also means fewer polluting exhaust fumes entering the atmosphere.

Finally, we can make sure that we know about the major conservation issues our world is currently facing. If we are well-informed then we can take action to bring about change.

These are all measure we can take as individuals to help safeguard the environment.

Greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming & climate change.

Click this link to get a PDF download of these practise questions & sample answers.

Download PDF Now

Environment Vocabulary


  • Do not try and learn this list of environment vocabulary.
  • Identify the vocabulary you find useful for answering practise questions about environmental issues.
  • Record these in your vocabulary notebook and practise using them regularly.

I recommend that you create your own answers to the Speaking questions on this page. You will find many other IELTS-style practise questions by searching online. 

For help on how to learn vocabulary, what to learn and how to record it, visit these pages:

How to Learn Vocabulary for IELTS

Top 6 Types of IELTS Vocabulary & Topic Word Lists

Environment Vocabulary  Common Words & Phrases

Environment Vocabulary Set 1: Key Definitions

environment – the natural world, as a whole or in a particular geographical area, especially as affected by human activity.

- Picking up litter is a simple way to help protect the environment.

environmental – relating to the natural world and concerning the impact of human activity on its condition.

-  A survey revealed a number of environmental issues concerning the development of the land for housing, most notably, that it was the habitat of a rare breed of frog.

environmentalist – a person who chooses a lifestyle that is designed to minimise their impact on the natural environment and who campaigns for environmental issues.

- Plans to build a new road alongside the lake drew fierce oppositions from environmentalists.

environmentally-friendly – not harmful to the environment.

- There are many environmentally-friendly cleaning products on the market that don’t contain chemicals that damage the environment.

natural environment – the natural world as opposed to, for example, a working environment.

- When the injured seal had been nursed back to health in the rescue centre, it was returned to its natural environment.

environmental hazard – a substance or an event which has the potential to threaten the surrounding natural environment.

- The illegal storage of toxic waste presents a significant environmental hazard.

environmental disaster – a catastrophic event affecting the environment due to human activity.

- When the oil tanker ran aground, it caused an environmental disaster from which it took the local wildlife many years to recover.

conservation – the protection of plants, animals and natural resources, usually by planned human action.

- It was Dimitri’s dream to get a job in conservation.

conservationist – a person who takes action to protect the environment from damage caused by humans.

- Conservationists are working hard to protect the breeding grounds of sea turtles.

conservation programme – an organised plan to protect a specific natural area or aspect of the natural environment.

- Next year I’m planning to volunteer on a conservation programme in Spain which researches dolphins.


  • wildlife conservation – the protection of wildlife.
  • nature conservation – work that protects natural resources including wildlife, rivers, forests and other natural landscapes.
  • energy conservation – the effort made to use less energy.

Environment Vocabulary Pronunciation

Environment Vocabulary Set 2: The natural world – wildlife, plant life & habitats

wildlife animals that live in the wild in natural conditions. Birds, fish and insects are often included in the definition.

- Every evening, a wide variety of wildlife came to the waterhole to drink.

local wildlife – the wildlife to be found in a particular area.

- The children did a school project on their local wildlife.

native wildlife – wildlife that naturally lives in a particular area and is not there as a result of human intervention.

When cats were introduced to the island, they hunted the native wildlife and cause a rapid decline in many species.

creature – any living thing that can move independently.

There are some fascinating creatures living in the deep ocean that we know hardly anything about.

fauna – the animals of a particular region or habitat.

- The group of scientists lived in tents while studying the fauna of the remote mountain region.

flora – the plants of a particular region or habitat.

- Much of the native flora of Australia isn’t found naturally anywhere else in the world.

vegetation – the collective name for all the plants growing in a particular place or area.

- Tropical regions are known for their dense vegetation.

species – a group of animals or plants that have similar characteristics and can reproduce together.

- Lions are a species of wild cat.


  • endangered species – a species that is in serious danger of extinction.
  • threatened species – a species that is likely to become endangered in the near future.
  • rare species – an uncommon or scarce species.
  • protected species – a species which it is forbidden to harm by law.
  • extinct species – a species of which there are no more alive.

ecosystem – all the living things in an environment and the complex relationship between each of them and that environment.

- Coral reefs have a delicately balanced ecosystem which can be seriously damaged by overfishing.


  • delicately balanced ecosystem – an ecosystem where the loss of a key species, or several significant species, can seriously affect it.
  • fragile ecosystem – an ecosystem that does not adapt easily to change and is easily destroyed by human or physical impact. 

Environment Vocabulary Pronunciation

Mother Nature – nature or weather considered as a force that controls all living things.

- It’s far better to try and work with Mother Nature than again it.

diverse – varied and very different from one another.

- They were able to grow a diverse range of crops in the rich, fertile soil.

biodiversity  the variety of animal and plant life found in a particular place.

It is important to preserve biodiversity in order to protect our ecosystems.


  • loss of biodiversity – when species become extinct in an area and there is no longer such a great variety of species.

ecology – the relationship between animals, plants, people and their environment in a particular area, or the study of this.

- Ben studied the coastal ecology of Lundy Island in his final year at university.

habitat – the natural home or environment of an animal, plant or other organism.

- The loss of their natural habitat through deforestation is a serious threat to the orang utan in Borneo.

to inhabit – to live in a certain place.

- The rainforest is inhabited by many different species of monkey.

natural surroundings – the habitat in which a species would naturally live.

- The best thing about going on safari is seeing the animals in their natural surroundings rather than caged up in a zoo.

to adapt – to change or adjust in response to new conditions.

- With the loss of large areas of countryside to housing development, foxes have had to adapt to living in towns.

to evolve – change or develop gradually.

- Scientists now believe that humans evolved from apes.

evolution – the process by which living things slowly change and develop over a long period of time.

- The theory of evolution states that all life on Earth today evolved over millions of years from simple organisms.

thrive – to grow and develop well or quickly.

- The leopard seal is well adapted to the cold and thrives in the fish-rich waters of the Arctic.

marine – related to or found in the sea.

- Marine wildlife is badly affected by the amount of waste plastic in our oceans.

nocturnal – active at night.

- Almost all species of bats are nocturnal, preferring to hunt or search for food at night rather than during the day.

migrate – to move from one region or habitat to another, usually when the season changes.

- Many birds migrate south to warmer climates in the winter.

extinction – being completely destroyed so that it no longer exists.

- The dodo, a flightless bird once found in Mauritius, was hunted to extinction by 1681.

dying out – to become increasingly less common, almost to the point of extinction.

- Tigers are in serious danger of dying out in the wild.

Environment Vocabulary Pronunciation

Environment Vocabulary Set 3: The natural world – resources & environment

climate – the general weather conditions usually found in a particular place.

- Egypt has a hot, dry climate with very little rainfall.

climate change – a change in global or regional temperature patterns.

- Climate change has led to the melting of the polar ice caps.


  • combat climate change – to stop or reverse the effects of climate change.

- It is only by countries working together to combat climate change that we will save our planet.

natural resources materials or substances that exist in nature, such as coal, oil, and timber,  and can be used by people.

- The success of humans as a species has been largely due to their ability to exploit the Earth’s natural resources.


  • rich in natural resources – having a lot of natural resources.

- It is believed that Antarctica is rich in natural resources but many fear an ecological disaster if mining is allowed to go ahead.

fossil fuels – a fuel, such as coal, oil and gas, that is formed in the earth from dead plants and animals.

- Fossil fuels give off large amounts of carbon when burned which is damaging to the atmosphere.

atmosphere – the layer of gases surrounding the Earth or any other planet.

- Asteroids usually burn up when they enter the Earth’s atmosphere.

ozone layer – a layer of the colourless gas ozone that exists high above the Earth's surface and which prevents harmful ultraviolet light from the sun from reaching the Earth.

- Without the ozone layer, it would be very difficult for anything to survive on Earth.

carbon dioxide – a gas formed when carbon is burned, or when people or animals breathe out.

- Trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen which helps to keep our atmosphere healthy.

carbon monoxide – a poisonous gas formed by the burning of carbon, especially in the form of car fuel.

- You can’t smell carbon monoxide which makes it a deadly killer, so it’s important to install a carbon monoxide alarm near your gas boiler.

greenhouse gas – a gas in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, that absorbs radiation and gives off heat.

- Greenhouse gases contribute to the problem of global warming.

greenhouse effect – the gradual warming of the surface of the Earth due to greenhouse gases being trapped in the atmosphere above the Earth.

-The greenhouse effect is believed by many to be responsible for climate change.

Environment Vocabulary Pronunciation

Environment Vocabulary Set 4: Environmental issues

erosion – the gradual wearing-away of something by the natural forces of the wind, rain and water.

- Crop rotation is important to ensure the soil isn’t left bare and subject to erosion by the wind and rain.


  • coastal erosion – damage to the coastline caused mainly by waves.
  • soil erosion – removal of the upper layer of the soil, mainly by water or wind.
  • wind erosion – a process where soil or rocks are worn away by the wind.

deforestation – the cutting down or burning of all the trees in an area.

- Deforestation results in the loss of habitat for millions of species, leads to soil erosion and, according to scientists, is a major cause of climate change.

land clearance – the process of removing vegetation to create new areas of land suitable for farming.

- Land clearance leaves the soil bare and at risk of serious erosion.

logging – to cut down trees for their timber.

- Uncontrolled logging is destroying vast areas of our precious rainforests.

pollution – damage to water, air or land by harmful substances and waste materials.

- In some cities, the air pollution is so bad that people have to wear face masks when they go out.

to pollute – to contaminate water, air or land with harmful substances and waste materials.

- In many countries, heavy industry continues to seriously pollute the environment.

emissions – the production and discharge of something, especially gas.

- Many countries are reluctant to reduce toxic emissions as the huge expense involved can affect the rate of economic growth.

carbon footprint the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual or organization.

- I have reduced my carbon footprint by cycling to work instead of driving.

global warming – a gradual increase in world temperatures caused by polluting gases, such as carbon dioxide, which are collecting in the air around the Earth and preventing heat from escaping into space.

- It’s not too late to reverse the effects of global warming but we must act right now.


  • to fight / to combat / to tackle global warming – take action to reverse the effects or promote the issue of global warming.
  • contribute to global warming – to add to the problem of global warming.
  • the effects of global warming – the environmental changes caused by global warming such as climate change.

Environment Vocabulary Pronunciation

disposable products – items that are intended to be thrown away after use, generally after just one or a few uses.

- When I was young, things were made to last a long time and be used over and over again, but now we live in a world of disposable products and have a huge waste problem.

dumping ground  a place where things that are not wanted are left

- If we continue treating our oceans as a dumping ground, it will eventually become too polluted to sustain life.

acid rain – rain rainfall made so acidic by atmospheric pollution caused by burning fossil fuels that it causes environmental harm, especially to forests and lakes.

- In Poland, large areas of forest have been destroyed by acid rain.

to contaminate – to make something poisonous as a result of adding waste or chemicals.

- Pesticide and fertilisers used on the field can contaminate rivers and kill all the fish.

degradation – the process in which the quality of something is damaged or destroyed.

- Soil degradation due to over-farming means that many farmers have had to move to the cities in search of work.

depletion – the reduction in the number or quality of something.

- Over-fishing has led to the depletion of the ocean’s fish stocks.

fumes – strong, unpleasant and sometimes dangerous gas or smoke.

- Car exhaust fumes are a major contributor to air pollution.

smog – a mixture of smoke, gases, and chemicals, especially in cities, that makes the atmosphere difficult to breathe and harmful for health.

- Some days the smog is so bad that people are forced to stay indoors.

air quality – the extent to which the air is free of pollution.

- When the company was forced to install filters in their factories chimneys, the air quality in the area improved considerably.

poisonous – having chemical properties that can cause harm or kill.

- Hundreds of people became seriously ill when poisonous chemicals from the nearby factory seeped into the water system.

toxic – poisonous.

- The dumping of toxic waste in the ocean is totally unacceptable and must be stopped.

threat  – something or someone that is a risk or a danger.

The greatest threat to the environment comes from the actions of human beings.

to endanger – to expose something to harm or destruction.

- Organised poaching is endangering the survival of the African rhino.

poaching – the illegal hunting or capturing of wild animals.

- Elephant’s valuable tusks make them a target for poaching.

drought – a long period when there is little or no rain.

- The severe drought meant that the crops failed for the second year running and many people faced starvation.

flooding – when an area of land that is normally dry is covered with water.

- We have been told to expect more violent storms and frequent flooding as a result of global warming.

flash floods – a sudden, local flood caused by very heavy rainfall.

- The flash flood washed a whole village from the hillside, killing dozens of people.

Environment Vocabulary Pronunciation

Environment Vocabulary Set 5: Protecting the environment


to protect – keep safe from harm, injury or damage.

- Many charities have been set up around the world for the purpose of protecting endangered species.

to preserve to keep something as it is

If we don’t take steps to preserve the environment, we will lose some important natural habitats in the very near future.


  • wildlife preservation – the practice of protecting wild plant and animal species and their habitats.

to recycle – to collect waste materials and process them to create new materials and products that can be used again.

- We can dramatically reduce the amount of rubbish we send to landfill sites by recycling our waste plastic.

biodegradable – able to decompose naturally without harming or polluting the environment.

- I always try to buy products with biodegradable packaging.

carbon-neutral – replacing the same amount of carbon dioxide as we produce through actions such as planting trees.

- Becoming carbon-neutral is something for both individuals and industries to work towards.

sustainable – involving methods that do not use up or destroy natural resources.

- With advances in technology, it is hoped that we will eventually be able to replace fossil fuels with sustainable energy sources.

sustainability the idea that we should meet our own needs in ways that do not damage the environment and that do not use resources that cannot be replaced.

- It is encouraging to see an increasing number of companies making a commitment to environmental sustainability.

renewable energy – energy from a source that is not depleted when used.

- Where I live, both solar power and wind power are important sources of renewable energy.

solar power – power obtained by harnessing the energy of the sun's rays.

- Hussan fitted solar panels to his roof last year and is now able to produce all the energy he needs to run his home from solar power.

energy-efficient – using only as much energy as is needed without any waste.

- When I buy a new appliance, I look for one that is energy-efficient as it will be cheaper to run and be more environmentally-friendly.

wind turbine a tall structure with blades that are blown round by the wind and produce power to make electricity.

- Many farmers in my area have installed wind turbines to provide the electricity they need.

wind farm – a group of wind turbines.

- We were horrified when they got permission to build a wind farm in our beautiful countryside, but we’re used to it now and understand how important it is to generate renewable energy.

clean energy – energy produced from renewable energy resources and which doesn’t produce emissions that contribute to global warming.

- Scientists predict that clean energy could reliably and affordably provide up to 80 per cent of U.S. electricity by 2050.

organic farming – farming without the use of synthetic chemicals.

- Concern for the environment is leading to changes in agricultural methods and especially to a greater interest in organic farming.

afforestation – the action of planting trees on an area of land in order to make a forest.

- Afforestation is vital if we are to reduce the carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

to go green – to choose an environmentally-friendly lifestyle.

- In an attempt to go green, my family is recycling everything we can and we no longer buy bottled water.

on foot – to walk rather than use a form of transport.

- When the weather is fine, I go to work on foot rather than catching the bus.

safeguard – take action to protect something from harm or damage.

- It is the responsibility of all of us to safeguard the environment for future generations.

Environment Vocabulary Pronunciation

Environment Vocabulary Set 6: Other useful words

urban – relating to, or characteristic of a town or city.

- In the UK, foxes thrive in urban areas and can often be seen on the streets at night.

rural – in, relating to, or characteristic of the countryside rather than the town.

- I was born in a small village and still prefer to live in a rural area.

Environment Vocabulary Pronunciation

Click this link to get a PDF download of this list of environment vocabulary.

Download PDF Now

Ways to Improve Your Environment Vocabulary

One of the best ways to improve your vocabulary is through reading. Watching topic related YouTube videos and listening to podcasts is also hugely beneficial.

Here are some online resources I recommend.

Environment Articles

BBC News – Science & Environment 

New Scientist

The Economist – Science & Technology (3 free articles a week when you sign up) 

World Wildlife Fund

TED Talks

I love TED Talks. They are short videos with a powerful message and are generally very interesting. They’re ideal for improving your vocabulary and give valuable listening skills practise.

Search YouTube TED Talks - Environment to help you improve your environment vocabulary.

All Topic Vocabulary

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