The Untold Story of the World's Leading Environmental Institution. UNEP at Fifty
By Maria Ivanova


The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) was founded in 1972 as a nimble, fast, and flexible entity at the core of the UN system—a subsidiary body rather than a specialized agency. It was intended to be the world's environmental conscience, an anchor institution that established norms and researched policy, leaving it to other organizations to carry out its recommendations. In this book, Maria Ivanova offers a detailed account of UNEP's origin and history and a vision for its future. Ivanova counters the common criticism that UNEP was deficient by design, arguing that UNEP has in fact delivered on much (though not all) of its mandate.

Drawing on extensive interviews she conducted with UNEP's past and present Executive Directors, staff, and two former UN Secretaries-General, Ivanova provides rare insight into the organization's functioning. She shows that UNEP was able to resolve problems and launch important processes when it had financial and political support. Its failures and limitations came when the environment slipped as a priority, leadership faltered, and connectivity was challenged. UNEP's fiftieth anniversary, Ivanova argues, presents an opportunity for reinvention. She envisions a future UNEP that is the go-to institution for information on the state of the planet, a normative vision of global environmental governance, and support for domestic environmental agendas.



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Press Release

Christiana Figueres

Executive Secretary, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (2010–2016)


"Ivanova's book, by far the most profound and insightful analysis of UNEP, combines the author's research rigor with her heartfelt humanity.”

Thomas G. Weiss

Presidential Professor of Political Science, CUNY Graduate Center


“Many promise but few deliver the kind of solid scholarship with policy pertinence as Ivanova has done for the ideational impact of UNEP, the undervalued 'anchor' in the battle to thwart the existential threat of climate change. Thoughtful, original, and hard-hitting.”

Zakri Abdul Hamid

Former Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia


“A must-read for scholars, policymakers, activists, and industry—especially those tasked with leading humanity out of the current global environmental crisis.”

Rachel Kyte

Dean, The Fletcher School, Tufts University


"Ivanova's authoritative history of UNEP tells the story of how we have tried, succeeded, and failed to protect the environment. As multiple global crises trace their origins to nature's destruction, this is essential reading."