in Global Governance at UMass & Abroad


“The vision for UNEP was to serve as the connector of the various

UN agencies, to be the institution that could see the 3000-piece puzzle

from 30,000 feet up.” -Maria Ivanova

Just one year ago, UMass Boston associate professor and Center Director, Maria Ivanova, hosted the first major UMass Boston virtual event with the Robert C. Wood professorship recipient, Christiana Figueres to discuss her new book. David Cash, Dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies opened the session. Fast forward a year to April 21, 2021, Dean David Cash opened the session, but this time Christiana Figueres introduced Ivanova for the Living on Earth podcast with Steve Curwood to discuss Ivanova’s new book. Figueres highlighted her excitement for this Living on Earth conversation that discussed the history of UNEP but also “our current thinking on the future of global governance, in a world that is increasingly globally oriented and globally interconnected.” Figueres’s theme of connectivity underscored a dynamic conversation about UNEP, its achievements and challenges, and its leadership.

Ivanova’s book, The Untold Story of the World’s Leading Environmental Institution: UNEP at 50, addresses some of the tensions surrounding UNEP. Figueres and Curwood noted that UNEP remains relatively unknown despite its nearly 50-year history. Ivanova challenged this idea arguing that UNEP’s “obscurity” must be contextualized in both time and space noting the continuous work of UNEP and the lack of the institution pushing for recognition. UNEP has done a lot with limited controversy, which may have kept it under the radar, she noted, and, importantly, its story had not been told. No academic book on UNEP existed until The Untold Story published in 2021.

Curwood noted that the international institutions in New York or Geneva are more well-known and inquired about location and connectivity. Ivanova acknowledged that UNEP’s location had a “profound impact on the organization, but also the organization has a profound impact on its host country.” She noted that Kenya has become a hub for technology and development that has positive impacts including proving that the UN can have successful headquarters worldwide. However, Ivanova remained realistic calling on UNEP to improve its connectivity and on Kenya to support UNEP.

The discussion turned to leadership with Curwood’s question about the “Secret Sauce” of UNEP’s Executive Director, Mostafa Tolba from Egypt. Tolba served as Executive Director from 1976-1992. Ivanova emphasized Tolba’s role as but highlighted his understanding of the interconnection of diplomacy and economics creating a complex secret sauce of leadership style, approach, and type. He took on challenges without prioritizing personal popularity.

In 1993, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, blazed the trail for women in leadership, as she became the third Executive Director of UNEP and the first woman in that position. Dowdeswell brought a Canadian approach to leadership and emphasized building consensus. Ivanova discussed the challenges and push back for women in leadership in the 1990s which were compounded by a different leadership style. Ivanova pivoted the discussion to remind listeners that the context and time period in which a leader serves provide important insights into the impact of the leader.

Curwood and Ivanova dug into the tensions but also the successes of UNEP and its way forward. Ivanova summed it up in this way,

“UNEP has been successful in naming the issues, bringing the

science to the fore, of saying we need to collaborate and create

certain policies, instruments, and structures, the conventions

(also known as multilateral environmental agreements), and

then [UNEP] argued for support for the countries that needed to establish

these necessary institutions to implement the global agreements.

That has been UNEP’s core and now, with connectivity, that has


Moreover, Ivanova added that the fiftieth anniversary can serve as a moment to reinvent, reimagine, and reconfigure UNEP to become the institution that it was designed to be.

Steve Charnovitz and Kenyan environmental journalist, Joe Ageyo, added questions from the audience. The Living on Earth discussion hosted by Steve Curwood delved into the central themes of Ivanova’s book: leadership, location, and design while exploring the opportunities for UNEP to live up to its mandate in this ever-increasingly interconnected world.

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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