On September 24th, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the creation of the Scientific Advisory Board of the UN Secretary-General, inviting 26 scientists, researchers, and policymakers from around the world to become members.
One of those 26 is UMass Boston’s Maria Ivanova, assistant professor in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance, co-director of the Center for Governance and Sustainability, and director of the Global Environmental Governance Project at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies.
The board was established on the recommendation of a high-level UN panel on global sustainability; Ivanova and its other 25 members have been charged to provide science-based advice on sustainable development to the secretary-general and to executive heads of UN organizations.
Ivanova says the board will examine how the UN can “use science—broadly defined as natural, social, and human sciences—along with technology and innovation to devise new solutions for global problems.”
She says that the UN is exploring opportunities for sustainable human development worldwide. The board’s members will bring expertise from a range of disciplines, including ethics, humanities, economic, behavioral, and agricultural sciences, as well as the environmental sciences, to define environmental tipping points, and to find solutions that will avoid breaching those points.
“We will be tasked with identifying problems and our role will be as catalysts for knowledge,” she says. “Within academia, we generate a lot of knowledge, but we often don’t know how to transmit that knowledge to the people who are making decisions. This board is essentially a global transmission mechanism for knowledge.”
Ivanova’s own research focuses on the performance of the United Nations and reform options. She has also served as an advisor to the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, evaluating organizational performance.
An experience early in her teaching career as a graduate student at Yale University sparked this interest, when she co-taught a class on the UN Environment Programme. She led students on a trip to Nairobi, Kenya, where the organization is headquartered, to present their evaluation of the program, and engage in local environmental work. She has continued to take students to Nairobi since then.
Ivanova brought her enthusiasm for global and local environmental governance to UMass Boston in 2010, when the McCormack School invited her to join its faculty and to help design its new PhD program in global governance and human security–which just welcomed its second cohort. The program now has 19 students from nine countries.
“This is the first doctoral program of its kind in the United States. I’ve been very excited and very grateful for the ability to contribute to its creation,” Ivanova says. “I am a student of institutions; this [position] gave me the opportunity to be a builder of an institution.”
The Scientific Advisory Board of the UN Secretary-General will hold its first meeting sometime in December. Ivanova is looking forward to beginning her two-year term with the new board, and working with her fellow members to provide recommendations on environmental policy–especially as world governments look to 2015, a key year for revising existing policies and adopting new ones.
“With its explicit focus on sustainable development, the board will contribute to global policymaking at a critical juncture in history,” she says. “The year 2015 is when governments will evaluate the [UN’s] Millennium Development Goals, launch [its] Sustainable Development Goals, and conclude a new global deal on climate change. It’s a great honor and a great responsibility to serve on this board.”