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Updated: Mar 17

On March 3, 2021, the Center for Governance and Sustainability (CGS) at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston hosted a celebration to launch Prof. Maria Ivanova’s new book, The Untold Story of the World’s Leading Environmental Institution: UNEP at 50. This kicks off a year of CGS-sponsored events to commemorate the past 50 years and imagine the next 50 for UNEP as the anchor institution for the global environment. We started with a pre-launch during the UN Environment Assembly on February 17, 2021, with Prof. Ivanova engaging in a discussion with UNEP’s Executive Director Inger Andersen, with the President of the UN Environment Assembly and Minister of Climate and the Environment of Norway, Sveinung Rotevatn, and with Donald Kaniaru, former director of UNEP’s Division of Environmental Conventions and official in Kenya’s mission to the UN at time of UNEP’s creation. Arnold Kreilhuber, director of UNEP’s Law Division, also engaged in the discussion and prominent Kenyan environmental journalist Joe Ageyo moderated.


Top from left: Maria Ivanova, Daniel Esty, Elizabeth Dowdeswell

Bottom from left: Gus Speth, Stanley Johnson, Natalia Escobar-Pemberthy

The March 3rd event showcased an intellectual genealogy bringing together world-renowned Yale environmental scholars and Ivanova’s doctoral mentors, Gus Speth and Daniel Esty, in dynamic conversations about the book. Natalia Escobar-Pemberthy, Ivanova’s first doctoral student and now an alumna of the Global Governance and Human Security program and associate professor at Universidad EAFIT in Colombia moderated the discussion.


Ivanova opened the event by noting the mentorship she had received from her professors and leaders in global environmental governance. She discussed the historical trajectory and significance of her research noting that “This story never ends; it has become my life’s mission.” To illustrate the process, Ivanova shared a short video featuring the 2009 Global Environmental Governance Forum during which she convened all five UNEP Executive Directors along with a number of other environmental leaders and has been a critical juncture in her professional journey.


Esty emphasized that: “All of us are students of Gus Speth and every one of us who thinks about not only global environmental governance, but frankly, what it is to have an environmental movement owes great debts to Gus who launched this effort.” He further noted that Speth started this work as a student at Yale Law School.


When discussing Ivanova’s book and its contributions to global environmental governance, Esty and Speth noted the importance of academic teams devoted to studying organizations. Academia can and should hold up a mirror and point out how an organization looks to an outsider. Such independent appraisal by the academic community, Speth noted, is “healthy for the institution.” Ivanova’s book brings this perspective to readers with a thorough examination of UNEP’s creation and its performance throughout its history.


Esty pointed out that he and Ivanova had been working on these questions and involving scholars and policymakers in a series of dialogues since the late 1990s. Their 2002 edited volume - Global Environmental Governance: Options and Opportunities - explored the need for a Global Environmental Organization.


Ivanova recounted a tale of engaged scholarship, which sought to offer policy ideas and ultimately led to this book. She recognized that conventional wisdom about UNEP’s creation and performance often runs counter to the archival research and the multifaceted narratives she collected. Ivanova captures the nuance and multiplicity in the pages of The Untold Story of the World’s Leading Environmental Institution: UNEP at 50.

In addition to the engaging discussion among Profs. Ivanova, Speth, and Esty, a few surprise guests joined the conversation from the audience. Former UNEP Executive Director, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, and currently Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, emphasized the importance of women in environmental governance as well the urgency of creating a “better normal.” Stanley Johnson, Conservative Environment Network International Ambassador, and International Conservation Caucus Foundation UK Director, who wrote a UNEP-commissioned book about UNEP at 40, gushed about Ivanova’s book despite not including colorful images like he did in his book. Ivanova and Johnson shared a laugh and agreed that UNEP’s role remains an important one.


To learn more about Maria Ivanova’s book, click here, and stay tuned for more events celebrating UNEP@50! We are also looking forward to more in-depth discussions about UNEP and its role, and invite you to share your UNEP story on our website, and follow the #UNEP50 and #UntoldStory hashtags on Twitter!


Esty and Ivanova as doctoral advisor and PhD recipient in 2007 and

Ivanova and Escobar-Pemberthy as doctoral advisor and PhD recipient in 2018


Watch the book launch events linked below:

Feb. 17, 2021: UNEP-hosted book launch: Environmental Successes, Crossroads, and Turning Points through Reflections on UNEP at Fifty



Reviews and Recommendations for the book:

12 Books Explore Fresh Approaches to Act on Climate Change

International Environmental Forum


Kuntala Bandyopadhyay

The Third Global Session of the UN Science-Policy-Business Forum took place from 18 to 20 February 2021 with the theme: Integrated Solutions #ForNature. The forum aimed to strengthen collaboration among key sectors and stakeholders in support of UNEP’s new Medium-Term Strategy and Programme of Work. Discussions ranged from e-waste, big data and frontier tech, marine litter and microplastics mitigation and prevention to the urban environment and nature-positive food systems.


In the closing session, a distinguished, diverse, and high-level panel of speakers from industry, finance, science, government, and civil society discussed the future of environmental multilateralism. Axel Threlfall, Editor-at-Large at Reuters, moderated the dynamic conversation.


Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, set the tone for the discussion by explaining the vision for the Science-Policy-Business Forum as “a multi-sectoral, multi-dimensional platform that brings together all these voices” from the business, technology, and finance sectors, as well as government ministers, public policy experts, policymakers, leading scientists, civil society and the media. She noted that UNEP’s work requires collaboration. Throughout the session, the call for concerted and collaborative action was echoed by other speakers as well.


H. E. Sveinung Rotevatn, President of UNEA5 and Minister of Environment and Climate of Norway referred to Prof. Ivanova’s book on UNEP’s Untold Story while pointing out that multilateral collaboration is the starting point of UNEP. The Norwegian Minister also emphasized the need for businesses to actively and productively contribute to sustainability and the role of youth as a driving force. Other government representatives on the panel included H. E. Jeanne D Arc Mujawamariya, Minister of Environment of Rwanda; H. E. Dr. Yasmine Fouad, Minister of Environment of Egypt; H. E. Fernando Coimbra, Chair of the Committee of Permanent Representatives and Ambassador of Brazil to Kenya; and H. E. Mohamed Mubarak Bin Daina, Chief Executive at Supreme Council for Environment of the Kingdom of Bahrain.


Jim Whitehurst, President at IBM, and Harry Verhaar of Signify, as the representatives of the private sector, pointed out how business could stimulate behaviour changes through innovation and expressed willingness to work with governments and civil society.


Sir Bob Watson, Environmental Scientist and former Chair of IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) and Yugratna Srivastava; Global Coordinator for the major group of children & youth to UNEP noted the urgency of the work at hand and the need to mobilize political will. The speakers agreed that transformative shifts are necessary to address the three interconnected planetary crises identified by UNEP’s Medium-Term Strategy: the crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.


Prof. Maria Ivanova emphasized that connectivity is key for effective environmental governance and action. Pointing out the original vision for UNEP as a smart, small, and nimble organization, Prof. Ivanova suggested that UNEP now must focus on its role as a connector. It must be and must be seen as, a resource that makes other agencies more effective.


All participants echoed the need for solidarity and connectivity as they work toward integrated solutions for nature. Rwanda’s Minister of the Environment Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariya underscored the importance of solidarity and connectivity by including multiple perspectives. She stated, “the new UNEP strategy should endeavor to bring different actors and communities together to nurture and inspire each other as well as to create sustainable solutions.”


Earlier in the week, on February 17, 2021, UNEP hosted a virtual book launch for Prof. Maria Ivanova’s newest book, The Untold Story of the World's Leading Environmental Institution: UNEP at Fifty. Prominent Kenyan environmental journalist Joe Ageyo moderated the discussion, which included Inger Andersen, Sveinung Rotevatn, and former director of UNEP Division of Environmental Conventions, Donald Kaniaru. Check out the book website and share your UNEP story. #UNEA5 #ForNature #PeaceWithNature #SciencePolicyBusiness




By Brian Harding and Meg Hassey


This year, the UN Environment Assembly that gathers the environmental ministers of the world is virtual. As part of the proceedings, the UN Environment Programme hosted a virtual book launch for Center Director Maria Ivanova’s newest book, The Untold Story of the World's Leading Environmental Institution: UNEP at Fifty. On February 17, 2021, a dynamic panel of UNEP experts exchanged views on Environmental Successes, Crossroads, and Turning Points through Reflections on UNEP at Fifty. Discussants included the Executive Director of UNEP, Inger Andersen, Minister of Climate and the Environment of Norway and President of UNEA5, Sveinung Rotevatn, former director of UNEP Division of Environmental Conventions, Donald Kaniaru, and Maria Ivanova. Prominent Kenyan environmental journalist Joe Ageyo moderated the discussion.



Joined by over 300 people from around the world, the panelists reflected on the history of UNEP which acted as a catalyst for a rich and engaging discussion about the future of both UNEP and global environmental governance. The panelists acknowledged the book as a powerful tool to understand UNEP’s past performance and to reimagine its potential.


As governmental negotiations were taking place, Arnold Kreilhuber, Acting Director of the UNEP Law Division, took on the mantle of representing UNEP while awaiting the arrival of Inger Andersen. He noted the value of the Untold Story as a powerful tool for understanding the organization.


Inger Andersen welcomed the book on UNEP and spoke of the organization being part of a tapestry of global environmental governance with a rich history and an ever-increasing role to play in the world. While there are certainly various visions on UNEP’s future, each panelist commended Professor Ivanova’s continued work on UNEP and recommended her book.


Sveinung Rotevatn, the president of the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, joined the session and reflected on the importance of building upon international environmental milestones. He noted the importance of youth voice in building the future of UNEP.


In addition to the panel, the diverse expertise of those in the audience enriched the discussion. Janos Pasztor, Executive Director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative engaged in the conversation asking if the world needed a different approach, perhaps even a different UNEP? John Scanlon, Chair of the Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime asked how UNEP could move away from its administrative functions regarding multilateral environmental agreements and enable more robust implementation? Trista Patterson, a Principal Expert in Economics with GRID Arendal, asked how as practitioners of global environmental governance we can bring forth the creativity and core identity of the founding vision of UNEP? While her four-year-old son, Solan, asked “what is the future?” Other participants who engaged in the discussion included Julia Marton-Lefèvre, former Director-General of IUCN, John Matuszak, former Chair of the Committee of the Whole of UNEA and official at US State Department, and Stanley Johnson, author and Member of the European Parliament (1979-1984).




In conclusion, Maria recognized and acknowledged the important contributions of the community of individuals working on these issues and building institutions, including some of the now-deceased Executive Directors of UNEP and environmental leaders. She also noted the role of the network of scholars and practitioners that the Center for Governance and Sustainability continues to build.


As Maria explains in her book, UNEP’s 50th anniversary presents an opportunity for imagination. It can enable it to address the challenges and create opportunities for the next fifty years and beyond. The analysis in Untold Story starts the conversation, evidenced by the diverse expertise of those who participated in the book launch. We are looking forward to more in-depth discussions about UNEP and its role. Check out the book website and share your UNEP story.


To order the book visit MIT Press: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/untold-story-worlds-leading-environmental-institution






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