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Research for Change







When the chancellor talks about UMB’s international relevance, one of the things that he has in mind is Professor Maria Ivanova’s work on environmental issues for the United Nations.

UMB had become a part of the Global University Partnership for Environment and Sustainability (GUPES). Driven by the UN Environmental Program, GUPES brings environmental issues into the classroom, which means that UMB can be a living laboratory for Ivanova’s work.

“Given our location, right by an ocean,” she said, “we are in an excellent position to incubate environmental and sustainability issues.”

Ivanova, from UMB’s conflict resolution department, has analyzed global pollution problems for decades and now she’s helping the UN write the book on how these issues might be solved.

“What we’re currently doing on this planet is not sustainable,” she said. “We need a set of global goals. What are the boundaries, and how can we keep within them?”

Ivanova is the Director of The Global Environmental Governance Project and she’s serving as the coordinating lead author for chapter 16, of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5), a book that offers a comprehensive survey of international environmental concerns. The GEO comes out every five years and it involves hundreds of authors from governments, NGOs and universities all over the world.

“We look at global responses, what needs to be done, what could be done and what should be done by governments institutions and businesses,” said Ivanova.

The book is broken into three parts: the State of the Global Environment, which is an overall rendering of the quality of earth’s resources, such as air, water and land; Regional Responses, which focuses on specific issues from different areas of the globe; and finally, the part that Ivanova has been developing, “what is to be done.”

“Basically we want to balance the people, the planet, and our prosperity,” she said. “We look at the consequences of business as usual, and what would happen if we transform our policies.”

These policies must be complex and malleable, based on where in the world they are being implemented.

“People expect a silver bullet,” Ivanova said. “There are multiple solutions and there are multiple trajectories, and they will depend on the context in which you operate.”

The ultimate goal, in GEO terms, is to create healthy, wealthy and sustainable communities. The policies outlined in chapter 16 address three primary interests, those of the environment, the economy and society. Ivanova calls these the three pillars of sustainable development.

The chapter that Ivanova has put together is the last one in the GEO, and it amplifies the policies that have worked around the world and creates an outline for how further policies can be fashioned, “so we avoid the environmental degradation of land water air in part 1 [of the GEO],” she said

The book is a colossal effort to explain “what could be done, and what should be done at the global level to make this world sustainable.”

The eroding effects of human activities, such as mining and manufacturing can be found all over the globe. Ivanova offered the example of persistent organic pollutants, or heavy metals.

“They travel great distances over air, so you cannot pinpoint where they come from or how they got there,” she said.

Heavy metals, like led and copper, can travel great distances in rain clouds, from the US and from China, to the Arctic, to the Himalayas and other remote regions of the globe.

“You will find in Canada pristine lakes in places where nobody lives, that are completely closed to finishing because they are polluted with persistent organic compounds,” Ivanova said. “We don’t have the global regulatory power to prohibit them or to punish the polluters. What we do have are treaties and conventions-global agreements that actually push countries to say we realize that there is this collective action problem at the global level, and we realize that our actions at home have repercussions abroad, and we agree to take certain measures to limit that negative influence.”

Since there’s no global government, and no global regulatory power, all of the ideas in the GEO-5 are aspirational.

“Most of the countries comply with most of the agreements most of the time,” said Ivanova.

Of course, in some cases national economic interests trump international environmental concerns.

“It’s up to the good will of governments of countries, but also of the people engaged in these issues,” Ivanova said. “At the global level it’s only countries that decide formally, but I think that now days this field is opening up to organizations, to individuals, to universities.”

As corporations and universities like UMB develop international ties and trade policies, governance takes on a new meaning.

“You can not solve global issues like climate change, or ozone depletion, or bio-diversity loss, and chemical or persistent organic pollution with governments alone,” Ivanova said.

Everyone needs to be involved in the process, because everyone has a stake in the quality of life on earth, said Ivanova. Her solutions are as broad as the issues she tackles.

“We’re trying to come up with a different structure,” she said. “We don’t have enough professionals who are able to think on a global scale.”

Essentially, Ivanova said, academics need to start taking the issues outlined in the GEO-5 seriously, and propose realistic policy solutions. There also needs to be an international accountability system.

“We need feedback. How far can we go,” she asked, “and what are the reactions as we’re reaching those boundaries? How will the policies effect the earth?”

The GEO-5 is going through its final draft, so it can be published before the next big earth summit, which is in Rio in June of 2012. Twenty-five of the authors working on the final chapter are meeting in Boston in the beginning of November, and they are presenting some of their work at UMB on November 3rd.

“It’s like presenting our final project for class,” Ivanova said. “So we’ve selected our star students to present.”

The review process for the GEO-5 is intense and not only includes peers from academia but also officials from NGOs and other research institutions, and governments.

For more information visit the Global Environmental Governance Project website, environmentalgovernance.org, or UMB.edu/cgs.