Achim Steiner, the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme

United Nations' Achim Steiner to deliver 12th Annual Wege Lecture

Achim Steiner, the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, will deliver the 12th Annual Peter M. Wege Lecture on Sustainability Monday, March 11.

The lecture begins at 5 p.m. in the Rackham Auditorium, and is followed by a public reception.

The title of his lecture is "The Imperative of Change: Environmentalism in the 21st Century


Environmentalism in the 21st century is being defined both by the legacy of a social movement it gave rise to during the latter half of the 20th century, as it is by the constantly evolving frontiers of scientific knowledge about our planet and the escalating anthropogenic impact of now 7 billion people. Taking the notion of ”˜living in the anthropocene’ as an inflection point, the lecture will explore the track record of modern environmentalism in shaping an agenda that has been characterised both as disruptive and anti-development or conversely as catalytic and fundamental to rethinking our economic and development paradigms in terms of the imperative of sustainability. Rooted in a tradition of critiquing past development choices,  environmentalism has increasingly emerged as a science and empirically based provider of analysis and risk assessment as to the environmental change phenomena occurring in our atmosphere and biosphere. The need for moving beyond questioning to providing answers and alternatives has meant that the ”˜environmentalism of the 21st century’ must itself confront significant drivers of change. By drawing on ”˜lessons learnt’ and exploring the implications of some of the most recent concepts shaping the environmental discourse of today – such as planetary boundaries, decoupling, the green economy, natural capital, tipping points and irreversible change, intergenerational equity and environmental rights – the lecture will reflect on some of the key reference points which will define the strategic directions for an evolving ”˜environmentalism in the 21st century'.  Change has become an imperative - the question is whether this environmentalism can move beyond the planetary perspective to incorporate the social and economic realities that motivate the choices people make about the future.

Past Lecturers have included Norway Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Ford Motor Co. Chairman William Clay Ford, Jr., His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and President Obama’s science advisor Dr. John P. Holdren. The series is named for Peter M. Wege, a Michigan businessman and philanthropist who envisioned it as an opportunity both to share his passion for the environment and showcase powerful ideas from individuals creating the change required for a sustainable future.

Before joining UNEP, Mr. Steiner served as Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) from 2001 to 2006, and prior to that as Secretary General of the World Commission on Dams. His professional career has included assignments with governmental, non-governmental and international organizations in different parts of the world including India, Pakistan, Germany, Zimbabwe, USA, Vietnam, South Africa, Switzerland and Kenya. He worked both at a grassroots level as well as at the highest levels of international policy-making to address the interface between environmental sustainability, social equity and economic development.

Steiner, a German and Brazilian national, was born in Brazil in 1961. His educational background includes a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Oxford as well as a master of arts from the University of London with specialization in development economics, regional planning and international development and environment policy. He also studied at the German Development Institute in Berlin as well as the Harvard Business School.

Steiner also chairs two UN system wide entities:

  • HLCP: High-level Committee on Programmes of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB); and
  • EMG: United Nations Environment Management Group.

He serves on a number of international advisory boards, including the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED).

Steiner is the recipient of a number of international awards and prizes including:

  • 2010 Leadership Award for Principled Pragmatism - Tí¤llberg Foundation;
  • Shark Guardian of the Year 2008 - Shark Project;
  • Schubert Preis - 2008 Bruno H. Schubert Stiftung
  • Steiger Award - Umwelt 2007

In 2009, His Serene Highness, Prince Albert of Monaco conferred upon Mr. Steiner the decoration of Officer of the Order of Saint Charles.