On 22 February 2013, the first graduating class of the Master of Science degree programme in Environmental Governance with Specialization in Biodiversity at the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS) received their diplomas from UNU Rector Konrad Osterwalder.
Prof. Govindan Parayil, Director of UNU-IAS and Vice-Rector of UNU, opened the graduation ceremony by emphasizing the relevance of the programme, given the current global need for qualified personnel “who understand the interconnectedness between biodiversity, ecosystem services and sustainable development” and who can also “support the implementation of international agreements, particularly biodiversity-related policies”.
Earlier in the month, the five graduating students (from Cameroon, Malawi, Nepal, Nigeria and Sri Lanka — who finished the programme in 18 months — had successfully defended their theses on environmental governance issues ranging from conservation of marine life to biodiversity in urban planning, and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and conserving and enhancing forests (commonly referred to as REDD+).
The coordinator of the programme, UNU-IAS Assistant Director Jose A. Puppim de Oliveira, praised the faculty and staff for their efforts in delivering a master’s programme that places great emphasis on fieldwork and internships in addition to providing a strong academic foundation. Some of the graduates come from governmental positions in their own countries, and UNU-IAS aims to provide such practicing professionals with interdisciplinary, problem-focused training that they can use after returning to their governments and organizations.
“We are different from traditional universities”, stated Rector Osterwalder in his speech, highlighting the unique, interdisciplinary character of UNU, which has been “organized according to problems, focusing on all different aspects that influence a given problem”. This is especially important, he stressed, when “coping with the problems of our time, of which biodiversity is one”. The Rector also stressed the importance of having students at UNU to strengthen the university’s capacity as a think tank, as students bring with them new ideas and are motivated to engage in research.
The ceremony included speeches by Madan Kumar Bhattarai, Ambassador of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal in Japan; Reuben Ngwenya, Ambassador of the Republic of Malawi in Japan; and F. M. Abikoye, Minister of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Japan.
Dr. Braulio Dias, Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD), which provides institutional support to the MSc degree programme, congratulated the students via a video message. He reiterated the strategic alliance between UNU-IAS and SCBD, and recognized Japan’s support of both institutions, which has made this programme possible.
Dr. Dias also stressed the critical role that capacity building of young decision makers plays in implementation of the UN’s 2011–2020 Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and its associated Aichi Targets. “UNU, as the UN’s main capacity building agency on strategic scientific guidance, must continue to support all efforts to address the ongoing — and, indeed, worsening — rate of loss of our common resource: global biodiversity”, he said.
In her speech on behalf of the graduates, Martha Mphatso Kalemba of Malawi concluded the ceremony by declaring that “it is now up to us to take this knowledge and use it, and we are more charged now, and can’t wait to go out there and see what’s in store for us”.