“The UNEP HAS the authority to work on the environment, however, it needs to be THE authority on the environment to be the kind of catalyst it was envisioned to be,” Maria Ivanova.
The 60th Episode of Sweaty Penguin: Antarctica's Hottest Podcast highlighted Center Director, Maria Ivanova, as the Expert of the Week. Professor Ivanova spoke about the role of the world's leading environmental organization - the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Ivanova recently published, The Untold Story of the World’s Leading Environmental Institution: UNEP at Fifty, noting that “surprisingly, there has been no academic book about ‘the anchor institution for the global environment’.” As the first book about UNEP, Prof. Ivanova details the history and creation of UNEP as well as how it performed, what has worked, what has not, why, and “what needs to change in the next 50 years.”
Ethan Brown, the host of The Sweaty Penguin podcasts, reminded that UNEP is “a branch of the United Nations (UN) responsible for convening countries together, and assisting them when it comes to the development of environmental policy,” as well as writing reports on the environment, summaries, running campaigns, and making videos. Brown identified some uncertainties associated with UNEP’s mandate as well as questioning if UNEP wants to accomplish its mandate and a potential need for institutional reform. Ivanova’s unique perspective takes the audience through a firsthand perspective of what the UNEP creators envisioned. She travelled, explored the UN archives, met many people who were working on the creation of UNEP, and found out a story that was different from what was written in textbooks. She explained the reason behind why at that time the founders and government officials did not see a need for a World Environment Organization (WEO), which Brown named “environmental ghostbuster,” and instead established the UNEP. She highlighted that “UNEP was not created as deficient by design…It was not purposefully created to be weak... It had weakened over time.” “Environment is different because it is indeed part of everything.” Ivanova shared that in the 1970s the town and other agencies were joking about the UNEP and naming it as “The United Nations Everything Programme.” Prof. Ivanova explained that only the UNEP that “has a legal mandate to look at the environment in its entirety,” and thus, it must be the “everything programme” so it can “be the kind of catalyst it was envisioned to be.” Ivanova also talked about the responsibilities of transboundary environmental issues, such as climate change, and stated that the UNEP is not “expected to deliver on climate change,” considering how complex that issue is, and how many actors it requires “to deliver in unison.” Nevertheless, Ivanova emphasized that only the UNEP is ought to have a holistic view on the environment; thus, it must be the UNEP who should be guiding the world leaders on anything associated with the environment. The work continues as Ivanova and her research team assess the extent to which countries implement their international environmental agreements. She mentioned the effectiveness of switching from a “named and shamed” strategy to a “named and a claimed” strategy instead. So far, the researchers focused on conventions on pollution (Chemicals and Waste) and conservation of biodiversity (Convention on Migratory Species; CITES; Protection and Preservation of Wetlands) finding interesting results in each area. Ivanova seeks to understand if the environmental conventions are not effective, or simply are not being implemented.
Ivanova emphasized the need for more discussion about environmental issues and demands for more action beyond the international institutions. She called for national governments and civil society to become part of the conversation noting that “there is no silver bullet, we cannot say if UNEP were to do xyz...because UNEP is THE member states.”
Listen to the Sweaty Penguin Podcast with Prof. Ivanova Learn more about the book