in Global Governance at UMass & Abroad


"We cannot live without the environment, but it can easily live without us"

- Achim Steiner

The Center for Governance and Sustainability's UNEP@50 Dialogue Series continued on June 3, 2021 through a dynamic conversation with Achim Steiner, Administrator of the UN Development Programme and former Executive Director of UNEP. Hosted by Center Director Maria Ivanova, the conversation delved into Steiner's own experience with UNEP and UNDP, his impression of the organizations, and a vision of the future where both organizations continue to play important roles. After a brief introduction from Dean Cash of the McCormack Graduate School, Ivanova and Steiner began the dialogue. Audience participation through the Q&A at the end of the webinar and pre-submitted questions made for an engaging discussion that was both insightful and personal.

Having led the United Nations Environment Programme from 2006 to 2016 and heading UNDP since 2017, after a brief stint at Oxford Martin School, Steiner is uniquely positioned to speak about each organization's role in the global institutional landscape. He articulated compellingly the ways that the challenges confronting humanity today are all interconnected. A self-described "child of Rio," Steiner traced the interrelated threads of his life and his career from his upbringing in Brazil through school and up until the Rio+20 UN conference on sustainable development in 2012, an event he sees as a turning point where a "new way of looking at the future was born or articulated, and we began to understand we cannot segment the future into sectors." This view, one informed by a variety of experiences both in and outside of the UN, shapes how Steiner views the challenges of our time.

When articulating his view of UNEP and the state of the organization when he joined in 2006, Steiner emphasized that the work being done at UNEP has, among other things, "combined the ability to bring science and knowledge into the mainstream and [prompt] decisions about life and society, and also be an advocate for the planet and people" at the same time. It is this unique blend of advocacy and expertise, Steiner feels, that sets UNEP apart and prepares the organization to tackle challenges of environmental governance. Professor Ivanova delved into Steiner's work at UNEP kickstarting the green economy initiative that has taken hold at the UN in a larger way, something Steiner sees as an example of the best that the United Nations has to offer. He stressed that the UN was never intended to function as an organization to strongarm states, but is “one that serves as a place to convene and a space to work in unison. The UN is a space for countries to learn from each other,” he noted. In Stenier’s view, the ability that UNEP has foster environmental knowledge at an organizational level is one of its most important characteristics, and is a capacity also highlighted in Ivanova’s book, The Untold Story of the World’s Leading Environmental Institution: UNEP at Fifty.

With her own leadership experience at the science-policy interface, Prof. Ivanova pressed Steiner on the most important dimensions for international organizations' leaders. He emphasized the need for "more eco and less ego” and noted how effective leaders put their mission above their image. "One person at the top can build a lot in the same way that someone at the top can also destroy a lot," Steiner explained and warned that “by allowing your own frustrations to drive decision making, you amplify the dysfunction." He noted the impactful efforts of the late UNEP deputy executive director Angela Cropper and her vision of the "triple helix" of economic, social, and environmental objectives. Steiner was also complimentary of current UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen, noting how her path from UNDP to her current role mirrors his own journey and informs her skilled leadership of the Environmental Programme.

A dynamic portion of the webinar allowed audience members to submit questions for Q&A. During this time, Steiner spoke candidly about how COVID-19 has hampered efforts to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals and his vision for the upcoming Stockholm+50 conference. Steiner emphasized how amid all the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build back better and how the UN has a reinvigorated mission to improve the lives of those who have come to rely on the organization.

To end, Prof. Ivanova asked Steiner about his view of UNEP@100. He responded that he hoped the world would still have a United Nations, emphasizing that "we are a privileged generation to have the UN" and that all throughout history, periods without international cooperation have been marred by conflict and disaster. On UNEP specifically, Steiner hopes that the organization will continue to bring the frontier of environmental knowledge to people around the world and amplify calls for climate action.

With that, the Center for Governance and Sustainability concluded the second event in the UNEP@50 dialogue series. Please join us in September as we continue the conversations with Wanjira Mathai!

Watch the Dialogue

Watch the Innagural Dialogue with Inger Andersen

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Tell us about your untold UNEP story

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A new report from UMass Boston’s Center for Governance and Sustainability analyzes and identifies key functions and elements of ten existing global commitment platforms for stimulating necessary actions from a wide array of actors around the globe. It then outlines recommendations to increase action to support the implementation of the forthcoming global agenda for chemicals and waste management beyond 2020.

Learning from existing global commitment platforms

Global commitment platforms can be understood as means of supporting governments and other stakeholders in achieving what has been agreed internationally as well as addressing regional and global regulatory gaps. They may display different functions and fulfill varying needs, but ultimately, they aim to complement and reinforce existing regulatory approaches. The report finds that global commitment platforms can help to incentivize action, but that requires careful design of its functions to accommodate for accountability, credibility, and transparency.

The report examines ten existing global commitment platforms, making it the first in-depth analysis of such platforms. This includes the Global Climate Action Agenda that supports the delivery of the Paris Agreement by involving also non-state and sub-state actors. Platforms in areas where global regulation is not yet in place are also considered, including two focusing on oceans: Our Ocean Conference and the UN Ocean Conference. The Partnerships for SDGs Online Platform ̶ that aims to provide an overarching registry for commitment platforms ̶ is also studied.

Towards a new framework for the sound management of chemicals and waste

The analysis has been used to outline possibilities for increasing action in support of the Beyond-2020 Framework for the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste. This new framework is envisaged to be adopted by the Fifth session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM-5) to be held in Bonn, Germany. It will replace the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) that was adopted in 2006.

The report provides recommendations on possibilities for commitment platforms to step up action to tackle issues of concern that warrant global action, including harmful chemicals, materials, and products. The report focuses on identifying ways to increase commitments to address issues of concern brought forward for adoption under the new framework, including already adopted issues of concern.

How can action be scaled up under the new framework?

A global commitment platform can enable the delivery of concrete and measurable outputs when addressing issues of concern, by providing a space for going beyond legislation, for innovation, learning, and partnership building, and, ultimately, for achieving the sound management of chemicals and waste. This will also help to deliver the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.

The report highlights the importance of setting clear targets and developing action plans to address issues of concern, as well as identifying and nominating champions for increasing visibility and raising ambition. Credibility can be ensured by setting criteria for making substantial and significant commitments and the screening of proposals before their announcement. Facilitating the organization of high-level events, technical dialogues and other activities will help to provide a spotlight for ambitious commitments, identify further opportunities for scaling up action and promote peer learning. Moreover, commitments need to be tracked and displayed online to ensure transparency and accountability. Lastly, campaigns can be used to communicate issues of concern and spur individual commitments at the grassroots level.

The report was funded by the Swedish Chemicals Agency (KemI).

Access the report:

Urho, N. (2021). “Commitment Platforms and the Global Agenda for Chemicals and Waste Management.” Center for Governance and Sustainability, UMass Boston.

Questions relating to the report

Contact lead author: Niko Urho, Senior Research Fellow, Center for Governance and Sustainability, Tel +1 617.763.7378, E-mail:

with UNEP Executive Director, Inger Andersen Inaugural UNEP@50 Dialogue Series

“I would say everyone who works on the environment has a burning commitment

and dedication that is not just a nine to five thing and not just the career thing.

But it is really about the passion for the issues. I found whether I was at the UNDP,

at the World Bank, at IUCN or, indeed, at UNEP that those who work in this field

have a special degree of commitment that I have come to love.”

-Inger Andersen

Anniversaries offer opportunities to reflect on the past and imagine the future. In 2022, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) turns fifty and has a chance to reimagine itself. What better way to kick off the Center for Governance and Sustainability’s inaugural UNEP@50 Dialogue Series than with Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director. Hosted by Center Director, Maria Ivanova, the dialogue series seeks to redefine multilateralism by leveling the playing field and allowing the audience to craft questions ahead of time and participate live through the chat and Q&A.

As the Executive Director of the world’s leading environmental institution, Andersen brings a unique background weaving experience with the UN Development Programme and the International Union for Conservation of Nature to shape her leadership of UNEP. Andersen sees UNEP as a “barometer on how we are doing, what’s happening, and what we understand about systems, climate, and nature all on the line.” With 193 countries involved, UNEP has universal membership. Add a focus on the science-policy interface, and UNEP engages a strategic advantage to gauge interest and knowledge and then create global environmental policies. Andersen emphasized that “[UNEP is] the environmental conscience of the United Nations and frankly of the world.”

Ivanova dug into the notion of UNEP as the “environmental conscience” since this was not part of UNEP’s mandate and further questioned UNEP’s role as “the UN system has a lot of agencies that are doing more and more environmental work.” Andersen sees UNEP as a translator of environmental issues for citizens as well as other UN agencies and therefore, is encouraged by the environmental work of other UN agencies. Put this way, Andersen stated that “We grow wings that way, we are not in every corner and every field and in every industry, but when we take the entire UN system we actually can begin to have more impact.” She noted that this is an area of needed growth for UNEP as well and connected this to the challenges identified in Ivanova’s book, The Untold Story of the World’s Leading Environmental Institution: UNEP at Fifty. A book that Andersen recommended as a must-read for the World Economic Forum (WEF) “Seven Champions for Nature” list.

When asked why this list, Andersen highlighted the reach, interest, and type of audience that engages with WEF. She noted that that the book outlines “that there is a trajectory and a legacy, upon which all of this [UNEP] is built” which provides the context for UNEP’s work and allows the audience including business leaders to evaluate their environmental footprint. Andersen noted that Ivanova’s book provides this context.

A dynamic portion of the dialogue series allows participants the opportunity to engage directly with leaders in environmental governance. Andersen fielded questions about the 17 conventions hosted within UNEP and the “tapestry” of environmental areas that UNEP addresses. She also addressed issues with filling the gaps between law and implementation and focused on science and law as foundational to UNEP’s work. Some of the audience members asked about raising global awareness for environmental issues, and Andersen credited the youth movements for taking on this challenge and giving high praise to them stating that, “And the credit [for environmental awareness] goes in large part to activist youth.”

Andersen and participants in the dialogue added several resources for people to engage with to learn more, including:

· Earth School

· Playing for the Planet

· Champions of the Earth

· IUCN Academy of Environmental Law

· UNEP Secretariat and Conventions

· Environmental Conventions Index

To close, Ivanova asked what Andersen’s vision for UNEP is at 75 or 100. To which she answered,

“We would have made peace with nature. We are living in harmony

with nature in a net-zero world, in zero climate-changing world, and

with a pollution-free planet.”

Join us for our next UNEP@50 Dialogue with UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner.

Watch the Dialogue

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Learn more about the book

Tell us about your untold UNEP story

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