For an academic who was so integrally involved in the research behind the United Nations’ January discussions to upgrade its Environmental Programme (UNEP) at the expense of creating a more potent organization, Maria Ivanova, assistant professor of government and environmental policy at the College, seemed curiously ambivalent about the pending decision. “At this point, it is not about organizations; it is about the need for leadership to evolve,” she explained.
Ivanova’s treatise “Can the Anchor Hold? Rethinking the United Nations Environmental Programme for the 21st Century” (Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Sept. 2005) bore directly on the U.N.’s January discussion. Her report assessed UNEP’s effectiveness in international governance of environmental initiatives. It concluded that UNEP had been effective in two key areas: (1) monitoring and assessment, and (2) launching environmental agreements. UNEP had fallen short, however, in “managing policy processes in a coherent and coordinated fashion, has failed to provide an ability to benchmark performance and identify ‘best practices’ and has not established itself as the institutional home for the numerous international environmental conventions.”
The test of any environmental program during the coming years will be whether it can successfully get the hundreds of existing entities concerned with the environment to work together, Ivanova suggested. In the past, a barrier has been that many of these existing institutions were designed on the basis of national sovereignties at a time when the world was less globalized—that includes UNEP, which was founded in 1972, she said.
“Environmental problems transcend borders, and we need to do something now,” she said. “That’s not alarmist. That’s realistic. Rivers are disappearing. We’re losing species. Even the U.S. government has now announced that the polar bear is endangered. The white dolphin is now officially extinct. And the weather is not normal. Self interest is not enough anymore. We need to do what is morally and ethically right.”
Ivanova believes that leadership can emerge in many places. She supported President George W. Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address in which he announced that his new energy policy aggressively would target the nation’s dependence on imported oil by cutting gasoline consumption in the United States by 20 percent during the next 10 years. That shift, however, would fall far short of the type of leadership she envisions.
“If the United States wants to step up, it could help construct an agreement among the 25 countries that are responsible for 86 percent of the emissions of greenhouse gasses,” she said. She believes that such an agreement would have more impact than the Kyoto Protocol, which is due to expire in 2012. Its 160 signees are responsible for 55 percent of global greenhouse emissions. The 25 countries she referenced, including India and China, collectively have the resources—70 percent of the world’s population and 70 percent of its gross domestic product—to institutionalize and sustain aggressive measures that could, among other things, begin to curb rising CO2 emissions, considered the leading greenhouse gas. If the United States were to commit, Ivanova believes the other nations would take notice. “They know that if there is one thing the U.S. does, when it commits to something internationally, it follows through,” she said. “I think the U.S. was afraid with Kyoto that it would commit and would meet its obligations but the rest of the world would not. That might have hurt the American economy.”
Ivanova referred to the United States as an environmental leader during the 1970s, but she said, “Now it is holding back itself more than it is holding back the world.” She cited as evidence the fact that dozens of states and more than 400 U.S. cities are adopting official climate-change-inspired practices that go beyond that proposed by the president during the State of the Union address. These entities, in line with many countries in Europe, are acting within what she referred to as a “precautionary principle,” which represents a fundamentally different response than the one practiced federally.
“The United States accepts a precautionary principle in the security arena,” she explained. “The whole security doctrine in the United States is to act in a precautionary way. That’s why the U.S. went to war in Iraq.” In contrast, were officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspect that a chemical being used by a company is harmful, the burden would be on them to prove it is harmful; the burden would not be on representatives of the company to prove that it is safe, she explained. “The U.S. does not accept the precautionary principle in the environmental arena,” she said.
Ivanova assumes that environmental leadership will emerge from William and Mary. She, herself, was attracted to the College two years ago by the breadth and interdisciplinary nature of its Mellon-funded Environmental Science and Policy Program that was in place. She co-located the Yale-sponsored Global Environmental Governance Project on the William and Mary campus fully expecting undergraduate and graduate students alike to advance its mission of conducting and compiling first-rate research on environmental issues. Through their contributions to the project, two students, Jennifer Roy (’08) and Sarah Wyatt (’06), monitored the January session of informal consultations on international environmental governance at the U.N. on behalf of the Swiss Mission to the United Nations. Other students have contributed research dealing with UNESCO’s role in water governance, with the relationship between science and policy making and with options to reform practices involving international chemicals. She recalled a paper that was prepared last year in which a student found that the United States, counter to anecdotal claims, is giving more money than expected to environmental projects. “The money, however, is channeled through development organizations such as the World Bank or the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which actually is very much in line with the U.S. national philosophy environmental stewardship is part and parcel of development,” Ivanova added.
As much as she can extend her influence as a research adviser to students who are passionate about environmental issues, Ivanova has seen evidence that she can exert influence in other ways—ways related to the quality and diversity of students the College attracts. She described a confrontation with a student last year in an elective senior seminar. “He was a security person, a guns and bombs guy,” she noted, and on the first day of class, he said, “Convince me that the environment matters.”
She continued, last May the student graduated and went on to interview for a position with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). During the interview, the young man was asked to present an example of analytical work he had completed as an undergraduate and to convince the interviewer “that it mattered.” The graduate gave an environmental example. “He told his interviewer that the United States had not ratified the convention on biological diversity and that the other two countries that had failed to do so were Somalia and Iraq,” Ivanova said. “By the end of the interview, the CIA representative was asking who he needed to talk to in order to get the convention ratified.”