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UMass Boston Engages in Negotiating Landmark Environmental Agreement

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

UMass Boston participated in the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) and the commemoration of UNEP at 50 with a small but mighty delegation. Professor Maria Ivanova actively engaged as a member of the delegation of Rwanda in the negotiations on a resolution to end plastic pollution and served as an expert during the UNEP at 50 celebration. Global governance and human security doctoral students Wondwossen Sintayehu, Meg Hassey, and Brian Harding attended in-person along with Peter Katanisa of Rwanda, a collaborator of the Center for Governance and Sustainability, and Joe Ageyo, senior fellow at the Center. DRAFTJS_BLOCK_KEY:4h1nl

Caption photo 1: Peter Katanisa, Maria Ivanova, Brian Harding, Meg Hassey at UNEA in Nairobi
Peter Katanisa, Maria Ivanova, Brian Harding, Meg Hassey at UNEA in Nairobi

Established in 1972, as a key outcome of the first UN Conference on the Human Environment, the Stockholm Conference, UNEP celebrated 50 years of environmental governance work and hosted two separate events: the resumed fifth session of UNEA (UNEA 5.2) with negotiations and plenary meetings from February 28 to March 2, 2022 and a celebration of UNEP’s 50th anniversary on March 3 and 4.

The delegation of Rwanda at UNEA

The focus of the UNEA session was on “Strengthening actions for nature to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.” The governments of Rwanda and Peru co-led the negotiation of a landmark resolution, End Plastic Pollution: Towards an internationally legally binding instrument, which was adopted by all 175 nations present at UNEA 5.2. The comprehensive resolution considers the life cycle of plastic from extraction to end of life, the economic impacts of production and consumption, and the informal plastic economy that will be directly affected by the future treaty. Professor Maria Ivanova provided support in the negotiations of the historic resolution to create an international mechanism for the governance of plastics. She discussed the process and the results with Living on Earth at Public Radio International. Listen to Professor Ivanova’s interview here.

In essence, UNEA 5.2 affirmed UNEP’s important mandate to “serve as the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system, and serve[s] as an authoritative advocate for the global environment.” In addition to the End Plastic Pollution resolution, governments adopted thirteen resolutions to address critical environmental issues, including lake management, nature-based solutions, animal welfare, nitrogen management, resilient infrastructure development, and post-COVID recovery. A resolution for sound management of chemicals and waste was complemented by a resolution to create a science-policy panel to advance this discussion and a resolution to enhance circular economy to contribute to sustainable consumption and production. Governments also passed a resolution on the future of the UNEP’s flagship Global Environment Outlook report and issued a Ministerial Declaration for “Strengthening actions for nature to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Professor Maria Ivanova’s research and work have focused on UNEP’s history, performance, and future. Her book, The Untold Story of the World’s Leading Environmental Institution: UNEP at Fifty, published by MIT Press, received significant attention from governments and civil society. Estonia’s statement during the UNEP@50 discussions, for example, referred to and quoted Professor Ivanova’s book to punctuate their point as did young environmental activist Vania Olmos Lau during her statement at the Leadership Dialogue “Looking Back: 50 Years of the UN Environment Programme.”

Peter Katanisa, Brian Harding, Maria Ivanova and Meg Hassey

The Center for Governance and Sustainability and the PhD program in global governance and human security at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston played an influential role in the development of resolutions and will continue work on the agreements decided at UNEA. PhD students engaged as advisors, researchers, and climate experts. Wondwossen Sintayehu served as an advisor from Ethiopia to enhance the African voice at these events. Sintayehu’s efforts included consultation with African group members, articulation of regional positions, interactions with governments and NGOs, development of the possible framework for the next steps on the Science-Policy body, and recommendations on how to improve sponsorship and mandates. Meg Hassey applied her research focus of plastic governance directly to the plastic negotiations. She served as support throughout UNEA and the UNEP at 50 celebrations while also coordinating the Center for Governance and Sustainability work in Boston. Brian Harding also attended the UNEP at 50 celebration. Harding works with the World Food Programme in Nairobi to better integrate climate change into their daily work using change management approaches.

Wondwossen Sintayehu, Peter Katanisa, Maria Ivanova, and Meg Hassey discussing with Sandeep Singh of Fiji

The Center supported from their Boston location. Research assistants included Anna Dubrova, Frida Dermmillah Obare, Prince DeMakele Moungembou, Leah Murphy, Jiedine Phanbuh, Elena Paronyan, Melody Rose, and Olga Skaredina. The team in Boston supported those on the ground with research, and social media engagement.

Maria Ivanova moderates Leadership Dialogue “Looking Back: 50 Years of the UN Environment Programme”

Ivanova remained busy as UNEA transitioned to the UNEP at 50 celebrations. She moderated the panel: Looking Back: 50 Years of the UN Environment Programme, a high-level official session leadership dialogue. It featured a high-profile group of environmental leaders including UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner; long-term Kenyan diplomat and UNEP staff Donald Kaniaru; Professor Christina Voigt, chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Environmental Law; Executive Secretary of the desertification convention Ibrahim Thiaw, former science advisor to the prime minister of Malaysia Zakri Abdul-Hamid, and youth activist Vania Olmos Lau from Mexico. The leaders engaged in discussions about UNEP and its history and provided ideas for its future. When asked to summarize the takeaway message from the discussion into a word or phrase, the panelists shared: tribute, intergenerational dialogue, passion, youth-works, future, and empower.

Maria Ivanova speaks at the closing session of UNEP@50

Following her moderated panel, Ivanova served as the UNEP expert panelist in the multistakeholder dialogue: Findings in the report "The UNEP We Want". Center for Governance and Sustainability Senior Fellow and Kenyan environmental journalist Joe Ageyo moderated the discussion. The panelists spoke about UNEP’s need to engage in politics and to have the courage to engage more forcefully in collaboration and lead. Ageyo called for UNEP to enter the “visibility phase”.

During the Closing Ceremony Ivanova called on UNEP to enhance its role as THE environmental authority and added that UNEP must also become THE environmental teacher and THE environmental convener. She closed by stating that UNEP is indeed, “The United Nations Everything, Everyone, Everywhere Programme.” Ivanova’s statement was later reiterated by Mr. Keriako Tobiko, Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in Kenya.

UNEA 5.2 and the UNEP at 50 celebration closed with historic resolutions, reflections, and projections of UNEP’s future. The results of these events will create momentum for governments to build on and catalyze impact on multilateral environmental efforts to protect and restore the natural world on which our economies and societies depend. UMass Boston’s delegation proudly engaged and contributed to UNEP at 50 and the landmark resolution: End Plastic Pollution: Towards an internationally legally binding instrument. A resolution that UNEP Executive Director, Inger Andersen called the most important international multilateral environmental deal since Paris.”

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