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The Environmental Conscience

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.


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