Environment and Development

The Department of Environment and Development focuses on efforts to reconcile poverty alleviation with environmental 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 Peace with optional several distinct specializations depending on students’ particular interests.

  • 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

Brian Dowd-Uribe (United States)

Assistant Professor, Department Chair

Adjunct Research Scientist, Earth Institute, Columbia University

Brian Dowd-Uribe holds a PhD and MA in Environmental Studies from the University of California Santa Cruz, and a BA in Latin American Studies, and a BS in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution from the University of California San Diego. Prior to joining UPEACE Brian was a post-doctoral research scientist at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. His research and teaching interests include: food systems, human geography, political ecology, international development, agroecology, and water security. His regional interests include sub-Saharan Africa (Burkina Faso), Latin America (Costa Rica) and the Western United States (California).  He teaches Water Security and Peace, Sustainable Agriculture, Human Vulnerabilities to Climate Change, and From Food Security to Food Sovereignty. . He is also a member of the Editorial Board of Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, and the Peace and Conflict Review.


English, Spanish and French.


 Jan Breitling (Germany)

Assistant 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.


German, English and Spanish.


Laura Shillington (Canada)

Assistant Professor 

Laura Shillington is Assistant Professor in the Department of Environment and Development. She has a PhD in Geography from York University (Toronto, Canada) and held a post-doctoral fellowship at the Instituto de Geografía, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM, Mexico City). Recently, she was Affiliated Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography, Environment and Planning at Concordia University (Montreal). She remains a Research Associate with Concordia’s Loyola Sustainability Research Centre. Dr. Shillington's research programme broadly explores urban social-nature relations. In particular, she is interested in understanding how everyday life in urban areas, especially in mundane spaces such as the home, is embedded within multi-scalar ecological politics - from gendered human-nature relations in the household to uneven urban environmental problems and governance structures. She concentrates in particular on gendered and racialised experiences and knowledges of urban natures. At present, she has two main research projects: (1) gender, safety and urban environmental services; and (2) urban political ecologies of nature and children. Her research focuses primarily on cities in Latin America, in particular Managua, Nicaragua. She is on the editorial board of Gender Place and Culture and is Chair of the Geographic Perspectives on Women speciality group of the Association on American Geographers (AAG).


 English, Spanish


Pasi Heikkurinen (Finland)

Assistant Professor

 Pasi works as an Assistant Professor and the coordinator of the Responsible Management and Sustainable Economic Development Master of Arts (MA) program in the Department of Environment and Development at the University for Peace. This academic year Pasi will be teaching the following courses: Review of Economic Theories, Responsible Management, and Thesis Seminar. He will also act as a co-teacher for the foundation course Environment and Development. Before joining UPEACE, Pasi worked as a Research Scientist at MTT Agrifood Research Finland, where he studied responsibility and sustainability in organising food production and consumption. He received his Doctorate of Science from Aalto University School of Business, Department of Management and International Business, where he also taught business ethics and environmental philosophy as a University Teacher. While his doctoral dissertation focused on corporate strategies for sustainability, his research interests extend to examining the role of the corporation in today’s societies and organising human activity, as well as exploring nonviolent pathways to peaceful co-existence of all beings. In his research and teaching, Pasi emphasises transdisciplinary and holistic approaches as important means to gaining understanding of phenomena.


Finnish, English, Swedish 


Visiting Faculty

Jan Pronk (Netherlands)

Professor at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in the Netherlands. With experience in the government as Minister, Member of Parliament. Also work as Special representative Secretary General of the United Nations in Sudan.

Marco Quesada (Costa Rica)

Coordinator for Conservation International's Costa Rican Programme.

Mohit Mukherjee (India)

Director of the UPEACE Centre for Executive Education as well as a faculty member at UPEACE. He served for four years as Education Programme Manager of the Earth Charter Initiative.