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The Untold Story of the World's Leading Environment Institution. UNEP at Fifty

The United Nations Environment 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 the organization has in fact delivered on much (though not all) of its mandate.

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Inger Andersen
Executive Director, UNEP

This is a must-read for anyone interested in the genesis and evolution of global environmental governance. As we approach UNEP's 50th anniversary, this book provides valuable insights into how UNEP – and, indeed, environmental multilateralism – must rise to the challenges of a planet in crisis and lead us towards sustainable development.


Gus Speth
Former Dean, Yale School of Environment

No one knows UNEP, its history and its potential like Ivanova. That knowledge shines through in this fine book. Our future depends on successful global environmental governance. UNEP will be a big part of that, and Ivanova shows how to make UNEP lead.


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
Dean, The Fletcher School,
Tufts University

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.

The past, present, and possible future of the agency designed to act as
“the world's environmental conscience."

The newly released “MIT Press Impact Report 2023” features Professor Maria Ivanova's The Untold Story of the World´s Leading Environmental Institution: UNEP at Fifty as one of the most influential MIT Press books.

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Ado Lōhmus
Permanent Representative of Estonia to UNEP, Vice President of UNEA-5

Ivanova's in-depth, down-to-earth analysis of the evolution of UNEP offers lessons learned and forward-looking perspective and creates the cornerstone for enhancing global environmental governance. Genuinely captivating!


Rachel Kyte
Dean Emerita, The Fletcher School

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.


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.



Professor Ivanova is the Director of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Her scholarly focus encompasses the performance of international institutions, the implementation of international environmental agreements, and sustainability.

Professor Ivanova served for 12 years at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she co-created the PhD program in Global Governance and Human Security and launched the Global Environmental Governance Project.

In June 2022, Professor Ivanova was named one of 66 inaugural Foundation Fellows of the International Science Council, the highest honor awarded by the Council in recognition of remarkable contributions to the role of science in promoting the global public good. She is also an Andrew Carnegie Fellow, a member of the Joint Scientific Committee of the World Climate Research Programme, and an Ambassador for Transparency International.

Professor Ivanova’s leadership extends to various international committees and organizations. From 2014 to 2016, she served on the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board under UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. She was Chair of the Advisory Board for the UN University-Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability in Tokyo, Japan (2019-2021), and Chair of the Jury for the $5 million New Shape Prize to reform global governance administered by the Global Challenges Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden (2017-2018).

In 2022, Professor Ivanova served on the Rwandan delegation to the UN Environment Assembly, negotiating the resolution on a global treaty on plastics. She continues to engage in the treaty negotiation process as a delegate of the International Science Council.

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Anniversaries offer opportunities to reflect on the past and imagine the future. In 2022, the United Nations Environment Programme turned fifty, and our team conducted a series of UNEP@50 Dialogue Series with environmental leaders around the world to reflect on the past, present, and future of the organization. 

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