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