UMass Sustainability Course Featured at Symposium

An innovative course co-developed by UMass Amherst was prominently featured at an international symposium on the environment and risk reduction.

NEWS Marta Vicarelli
Marta Vicarelli

The inaugural UN Global Sustainable Solutions Winter School, which took place last December and January, was developed by the School of Public Policy at UMass Amherst in partnership with McMaster University and the United Nations University. Forty graduate students from a range of departments at the three institutions took part in the program, which was offered free of charge.

The course was organized by assistant professor Marta Vicarelli of the UMass School of Public Policy and the department of economics and Nidhi Nagabhatla of the United Nations University and McMaster. It was supported by the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) and the Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction (PEDRR).

Vicarelli and Nagabhatla were invited to give a keynote address about the course at a virtual symposium organized by PEDRR, a global alliance of UN agencies, NGOs and institutes, on Sept. 15 and 16.

“PEDRR and UNEP are interested in finding ways to reproduce our Winter School model in other countries and regions,” Vicarelli said. “Despite the challenges of the global pandemic, our first Winter School was very successful and we, as a team, are happy to share our experience.”

Thirty UMass Amherst students — including ten from the School of Public Policy — enrolled in the 2020-21 Winter School. The course included weekly synchronous lectures on nature-based solutions — sustainable management strategies for addressing socio environmental problems, such as climate change and disaster risk management — by global experts from international government agencies and environmental groups, including the UNEP, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the Nature Conservancy.

At the end of the Winter School, a group of students —including Shannon McAndrew and Madison Trepanier, both SPP class of 2021 — joined Vicarelli and Nagabhatla in conducting a study on how nature-based solutions are perceived and implemented across different academic disciplines, with a focus on economic valuation methodologies. Vicarelli and Nagabhatla presented the study at the PEDRR symposium.

In addition, a paper coauthored by Vicarelli and two former School of Public Policy students, which investigates the use of nature-based solutions on road infrastructure in Nepal, was presented at the PEDRR symposium. SPP alumnae Maria Fernandez and Trista Ristvedt (both of whom received joint MPPA/MBA degrees in 2015) traveled to Nepal for the project when they were students in SPP’s Workshop in Public Policy course, taught by Vicarelli. The paper’s other coauthors are Dhiroj Koirala of the UMass Department of Resource Economics, Karen Sudmeier-Rieux of the United Nations Environmental Program and the University of Lausanne, and Sanjay Devkota of Nepal’s Tribhuvan University.

The symposium also included a presentation of a poster coauthored by a group of students with Vicarelli and other scholars. The presentation shared preliminary results of a global assessment of twenty years of economic peer-reviewed literature on nature-based solutions, focused on the efficiency and equity of these strategies. SPP students Michael Kang, Madeline Leue, Michael Marr, Shannon McAndrew, Miranda Vance and David Wasielewski; Aryen Shrestha of Amherst College; and Simon Shutze of the United Nations University contributed to the study, which was supported by a College of Social and Behavioral Sciences research grant.

Vicarelli and Nagabhatla are now making plans for the 2021-22 Winter School.