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UMass Boston celebrates Prof. Ivanova’s book on the UN Environment Programme

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

On March 3, 2021, the Center for Governance and Sustainability (CGS) at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston hosted a celebration to launch Prof. Maria Ivanova’s new book,The Untold Story of the World’s Leading Environmental Institution: UNEP at 50. This kicks off a year of CGS-sponsored events to commemorate the past 50 years and imagine the next 50 for UNEP as the anchor institution for the global environment. We started with a pre-launch during the UN Environment Assembly on February 17, 2021, with Prof. Ivanova engaging in a discussion with UNEP’s Executive Director Inger Andersen, with the President of the UN Environment Assembly and Minister of Climate and the Environment of Norway, Sveinung Rotevatn, and with Donald Kaniaru, former director of UNEP’s Division of Environmental Conventions and official in Kenya’s mission to the UN at time of UNEP’s creation. Arnold Kreilhuber, director of UNEP’s Law Division, also engaged in the discussion and prominent Kenyan environmental journalist Joe Ageyo moderated.

Top from left: Maria Ivanova, Daniel Esty, Elizabeth Dowdeswell

Bottom from left: Gus Speth, Stanley Johnson, Natalia Escobar-Pemberthy

The March 3rd event showcased an intellectual genealogy bringing together world-renowned Yale environmental scholars and Ivanova’s doctoral mentors, Gus Speth and Daniel Esty, in dynamic conversations about the book. Natalia Escobar-Pemberthy, Ivanova’s first doctoral student and now an alumna of the Global Governance and Human Security program and associate professor at Universidad EAFIT in Colombia moderated the discussion.

Ivanova opened the event by noting the mentorship she had received from her professors and leaders in global environmental governance. She discussed the historical trajectory and significance of her research noting that “This story never ends; it has become my life’s mission.” To illustrate the process, Ivanova shared a short video featuring the 2009 Global Environmental Governance Forum during which she convened all five UNEP Executive Directors along with a number of other environmental leaders and has been a critical juncture in her professional journey.

Esty emphasized that: “All of us are students of Gus Speth and every one of us who thinks about not only global environmental governance, but frankly, what it is to have an environmental movement owes great debts to Gus who launched this effort.” He further noted that Speth started this work as a student at Yale Law School.

When discussing Ivanova’s book and its contributions to global environmental governance, Esty and Speth noted the importance of academic teams devoted to studying organizations. Academia can and should hold up a mirror and point out how an organization looks to an outsider. Such independent appraisal by the academic community, Speth noted, is “healthy for the institution.” Ivanova’s book brings this perspective to readers with a thorough examination of UNEP’s creation and its performance throughout its history.

Esty pointed out that he and Ivanova had been working on these questions and involving scholars and policymakers in a series of dialogues since the late 1990s. Their 2002 edited volume - Global Environmental Governance: Options and Opportunities - explored the need for a Global Environmental Organization.

Ivanova recounted a tale of engaged scholarship, which sought to offer policy ideas and ultimately led to this book. She recognized that conventional wisdom about UNEP’s creation and performance often runs counter to the archival research and the multifaceted narratives she collected. Ivanova captures the nuance and multiplicity in the pages of The Untold Story of the World’s Leading Environmental Institution: UNEP at 50.

In addition to the engaging discussion among Profs. Ivanova, Speth, and Esty, a few surprise guests joined the conversation from the audience. Former UNEP Executive Director, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, and currently Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, emphasized the importance of women in environmental governance as well the urgency of creating a “better normal.” Stanley Johnson, Conservative Environment Network International Ambassador, and International Conservation Caucus Foundation UK Director, who wrote a UNEP-commissioned book about UNEP at 40, gushed about Ivanova’s book despite not including colorful images like he did in his book. Ivanova and Johnson shared a laugh and agreed that UNEP’s role remains an important one.

To learn more about Maria Ivanova’s book, click here, and stay tuned for more events celebrating UNEP@50! We are also looking forward to more in-depth discussions about UNEP and its role, and invite you to share your UNEP story on our website, and follow the #UNEP50 and #UntoldStory hashtags on Twitter!

Esty and Ivanova as doctoral advisor and PhD recipient in 2007 and

Ivanova and Escobar-Pemberthy as doctoral advisor and PhD recipient in 2018

Watch the book launch events linked below:

Reviews and Recommendations for the book:


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