Environment and Development

The Department of Environment and Development focuses on efforts to reconcile poverty alleviation withenvironmental protection in a manner that contributes to peaceful conflict resolution. We emphasize sustained critical analysis in order to formulate solutions that do not just deal with surface issues but address the root causes of environmental problems and underdevelopment. Our approach is grounded in political ecology, an interdisciplinary perspective that highlights the importance of political economic structures and inequality in access to resources as key drivers in environmental conflict and global environmental change. Our teaching, based in principles of peace education, promotes student-centered learning and active participation through collaborative discussion. We take full advantage of our unique location in Costa Rica by including within all of our courses case studies and field visits to explore the many innovative sustainable development projects occurring throughout the country.

Our students have gone on to successful careers with a wide variety of organizations, including UN agencies, government offices around the world, NGOs both local and international, and progressive private sector firms. Many have also continued in higher education, pursuing doctoral degrees in the social sciences. By joining the Department, you therefore become part of a growing global network of scholars and practitioners working towards sustainable development and environmental peacebuilding.

The Department offers three Masters of Arts degrees:

MA in Environment, Development and Peacewith optional several distinct specializations depending on students’ particular interests.

  • Specialization in Sustainable Food Systems (SFS)

  • Specialization in Climate Change Policy (CCP)

  • Specialization in Environmental Security and Governance (ESG)

  • Specialization in Sustainable Natural Resource Management (SNRM)

MA in Responsible Management and Sustainable Economic Development

Dual MA in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development together with American University in Washington, DC.

Resident Faculty

Jan Breitling (Germany), Head of Department of Environment and Development, Professor

Jan Breitling holds a BSc in Tropical Forestry from the Technological Institute of Costa Rica, Cartago, Costa Rica, a MSc in Environmental Sciences from Wageningen University and Research Centre, Netherlands, and is enrolled in the UPEACE Doctorate Program in Peace and Conflict Studies. His main areas of teaching and research are Environmental Governance, Conservation, Development, Neoliberal Globalization and Global Environmental Change, Political Ecology of Deforestation, Natural Resource Conflicts, and Environmental Security.

Languages: German, English and Spanish


Olivia Sylvester (Canada), Assistant Professor, Department of Environment and Development, Professor

Olivia Sylvester is an ethnobiologist who researches food harvesting in Costa Rica. For the past decade her research program has focused on access to food in Costa Rican national parks. Specifically her emphasis has been on Indigenous rights to access and harvest cultural food. Olivia is a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the International Society of Ethnobiology, the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage Project, and the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance. Being active within these networks allows her to work at the interface of policy and practice regarding food harvesting and access. 

 Languages: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Bribri (basic)


Alonso Muñoz (Costa Rica), Assistant Professor, Department of Environment and Development, Professor

Alonso Muñoz is Instructor in the Department of Environment and Development at the University for Peace, where he coordinates the Master of Arts (MA) degree in Responsible Management and Sustainable Economic Development (RMSED).  He holds a BSc. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Costa Rica and a Msc. in Business Administration. He has worked in the private sector as a consultant and as an entrepreneur, and has volunteered on various national and international projects regarding peace education, migration, environmental impact of systems and Social Enterprises. He is a novelist, a blogger, a peace advocate, an entrepreneur and passionate about social and environmental development.

 Languages: Spanish, English 

Visiting Faculty


Marco Quesada (Costa Rica)

M.Sc. in Marine Biology, Universidad de Costa Rica.  Ph.D. candidate, Marine Affairs Department, University of Rhode Island. Coordinator, Southern Central America Marine Program, Conservation International. Member of the Costa Rican Ocean Commission, in representation of Conservation International and of the Costa Rican Marine resources sub-commission, within the Presidential “Peace with Nature” Initiative. Appointed to Costa Rica’s technical working group for the South Pacific, for the assessment of the viability of establishing a new marine protected area in Costa Rica’s south Pacific. As a member of Costa Rica’s EEZ Commission, active participation in the elaboration of Costa Rica’s National Marine Strategy. Professor, Introduction to Fisheries Management (B-0681), School of Biology, University of Costa Rica.


Urbano Fra (Spain)

Urbano Fra Paleo, B.A. Hons. Geography (Santiago de Compostela), Ph.D. Geography (Santiago de Compostela, 1996), also holds a Diploma in Environmental Engineering from the EOI Business School and is a certified Geomatics Specialist (GIS/LIS). Urbano Fra is Professor in Human Geography at the University of Extremadura in Spain, currently on leave at the Land Laboratory (LaboraTe) of the University of Santiago de Compostela since 2007. He is Visiting Professor at the University for Peace (UPEACE), Costa Rica. He worked at the US Geological Survey in Denver (1995) and Hawai’i (1999), and was Research Associate at The Environment Institute of the University of Denver (1996). In 2005 he was Fellow of the American Geographical Society Library of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Dr. Fra has performed fieldwork in the United States, Mexico and Morocco, and taught at the University of Köln, Germany (2003), University of Marburg, Germany, (2002), University of Iceland, Iceland (2001) and Fachhochschule Neubrandenburg, Germany (1997). His research interests lie in risk governance, particularly the development of criteria and methods to perform collaborative evaluation. His research is also focused on the analysis of strategies of mitigation and adaptation to risk from natural hazards. His most recent works include the editing of the books Building safer communities. Governance, spatial planning, and responses to natural hazards (IOS Press, 2009), and Riesgos naturales en Galicia El encuentro entre naturaleza y sociedad (University of Santiago de Compostela Press, 2010), a review of the interaction between natural hazards and societal processes in northwestern Spain. He currently is editing the book Risk governance: The articulation of hazard, politics and ecology for Springer. Urbano Fra has been involved in the European Virtual Seminar on sustainable development through a European-wide university partnership. He is a member of the group that is developing the evaluation tool AISHE 2.0, contributing with criteria and methods for the evaluation of sustainability in higher education. He currently is member of the Spanish Scientific Committee of International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP), of the Scientific Committee of the Integrated Risk Governance (IRG) Project, of the Disaster Risk Reduction Thematic Group, Commission on Ecosystem Management, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), project associate of the Project Urbanization and Global Environmental Change (UGEC), and is Senior Research Fellow of the IHDP Earth System Governance. In 2009 Urbano Fra received the Innovation Award from the University of Santiago de Compostela, and the same year was honored with the Sustainable Actions in Social Entrepreneurship Award from the University of Santiago de Compostela and the Jaime Vera Foundation for distinguished contributions in introducing young students to science research. He serves on the editorial board of the Chinese Geographical Science Journal.


Juan Hoffmaister (Costa Rica)

Juan P. Hoffmaister is a specialist on international governance and law, with expertise adaptation, disaster risk reduction, and development and cooperation policy. He is associated with Third World Network and the Stockholm Environment Institute, and serves as negotiator for the Group of 77 and China in multiple UN forums. Mr. Hoffmaister has completed extensive field work on implementation of adaptation and disaster risk reduction activities and has spoken to international audiences on the strengthens and drawbacks on community-based adaptation. He has served in research, assessment and policy advice to governments and multilateral organizations on climate change, particularly in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change process, and is also knowledgeable of international governance processes on biodiversity (Convention on Biological Diversity), trade (World Trade Organization), and sustainable development (Commission on Sustainable Development). He has training in adaptation and resilience from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden (Msc) and ecology and environmental policy from College of the Atlantic, USA (BA).