The past, present, and possible future of the United Nations Environmental Program
Credit: The MIT Press
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 “The Untold Story of the World’s Leading Environmental Institution: UNEP at Fifty”, author 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.
Maria Ivanova is Associate Professor of Global Governance and Director of the Center for Governance and Sustainability at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Public Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Ivanova is also a visiting scholar at the Climate CoLab at MIT Sloan School of Management.
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Publication date: February 23, 2021