Department of 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.


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.

Dr. Abdalla is a visiting professor of peace and conflict studies at the University for Peace and the Wesley Theological Seminary. He serves as the Senior Advisor on Conflict Resolution at the Washington-based organization KARAMAH (Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights in the Washington, D.C. area. From 2014 to 2017 he was the Senior Advisor on Policy Analysis and Research at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) of Addis Ababa University. In 2013-2014, he was Vice President of SALAM Institute for Peace and Justice in Washington, D.C. From 2004-2013 he was Professor, Dean and Vice Rector at the United Nations-mandated University for Peace (UPEACE) in Costa Rica. Prior to that, he was a Senior Fellow with the Peace Operations Policy Program, School of Public Policy, at George Mason University, Virginia. He was also a Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Leesburg, Virginia.

Both his academic and professional careers are multi-disciplinary. He obtained a law degree in Egypt in 1977 where he practiced law as a prosecuting attorney from 1978 to 1986. From 1981-1986, he was a member of the public prosecutor team investigating the case of the assassination of President Sadat and numerous other terrorism cases. He then emigrated to the U.S. where he obtained a Master's degree in Sociology and a Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University. He has been teaching graduate classes in conflict analysis and resolution, and has conducted training, research and evaluation of conflict resolution and peacebuilding programs in several countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas.

He has been an active figure in promoting effective cross-cultural messages within the Islamic and Arabic-speaking communities in America through workshops, T.V. and radio presentations. He has also been actively involved in inter-faith dialogues in the United States. He pioneered the development of the first conflict resolution training manual for the Muslim communities in the United States titled (“…Say Peace”). He also founded Project LIGHT (Learning Islamic Guidance for Human Tolerance), a community peer-based anti-discrimination project funded by the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ). In 2011, he established with Egyptian UPEACE graduates a program for community prevention of sectarian violence in Egypt (Ahl el Hetta).

Dr. Abdalla teaches regularly (face-to-face and online) at Wesley Theological Seminary and the University for Peace.

Jan Breitling is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Environment and Development at University for Peace. He holds a BSc. in Tropical Forestry, from the Technological Institute of Costa Rica, and a MSc. in Environmental Sciences from WUR Wageningen University and Research Center, The Netherlands. His research interests include root causes of deforestation and Global Environmental Change, and Environmental Governance, specifically market based approaches addressing biodiversity conservation and Climate Change.

Dr. Julie Watson is a PhD in geography with expertise in transboundary water conflict and cooperation.
Julie's goal is to figure out ways we can collaborate more effectively over shared water resources while addressing inequities in access to water for all its uses. She's especially interested in environmental justice, participatory processes, and the integration of qualitative, hard-to-measure values alongside the quantifiable in more holistic decision-making frameworks.
Julie is certified in mediation and transboundary water conflict transformation. She has produced a documentary film and measured its value as a facilitation tool, and she has created training modules and conducted workshops to build practitioner capacity for conflict management. Julie's passion is creating a resilient process and facilitating stronger partnerships to catalyze creative, strategic, and resilient water governance solutions for more peaceful, just water management.


Member of the Office of the Legal Counsel, Office of Legal Affairs, Secretariat of the United Nations. Previously a member of the Treaty Section of the Office of Legal Affairs. Formerly a legal adviser and a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Philippines, and Rwanda. LLM, London School of Economics and Political Science; PhD, University of Cambridge. Areas of expertise are the law of international organisations, international humanitarian law, international law regulating the use of force, and the law of treaties.

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.

Director of the UPEACE Centre for Executive and Professional Education and a faculty member at UPEACE. Prior to this position, he served as Education Programme Manager of the Earth Charter Initiative, an international nonprofit organization. Before his 4-years in the non-profit sector, he worked both in the private sector and also as a high school teacher in Ecuador. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stanford University and his Master's from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Dr. Monica Araya is the co-founder and Director of Costa Rica Limpia ( to bring people closer to clean technologies that improve their everyday life. Her group pioneered – the first zero emissions electric mobility platforms in Latin America devoted to the education of consumers. She co-founded the Electric Mobility Association in Costa Rica and is the Board´s Vice President. She is a former negotiator in the UN climate talks and has been a reference on climate politics in Latin America. She founded the platform to support new voices on development and environment in Latin America. She writes frequently for international and local newspapers. She is a policy senior adviser at E3G in London and at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and is the member of several advisory boards. She studied economics at the National University, got a Masters in Economic Policy at CINPE. She also got a Masters and Ph.D. in environmental management from Yale University. Her TED talk about fossil-free Costa Rica that has over 1 million views and was translated into 30 languages. In December 2016, she joined the world´s largest all-female expedition to Antarctica. More info:
Olivia Sylvester, Ph.D., researches sustainable agriculture, food security, climate change, and environmental justice a feminist political ecology perspective. For more than a decade, she has worked in Costa Rica with Indigenous people, women, small-scale farmers, and youth on these topics. Her research is driven by social justice goals and she uses alternative methodologies (e.g., Indigenous, feminist). She has taught in higher education for over a decade in Canada, the United States, and in Costa Rica. Olivia is also an adjunct faculty at Long Island University (USA) and a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the International Society of Ethnobiology, and the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage Project. Being active within these networks allows her to work at the interface of policy and practice.

Instructor, Liason, Media, Peace and Conflict Studies Specialization Programme
Ross Ryan currently serves as Instructor in the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies and Liaison Officer of the Media and Peace specialization programme. He previously served as Editor of Publications for UPEACE, where he oversaw the publication of the academic journal Peace and Conflict Review and online magazine Peace Conflict Monitor, as well as several ebooks and occasional papers hosted in the Open Knowledge Network. Professor Ryan holds a Double Honours BA in Political Science and English Literature from McMaster University, Canada and an MA in Environmental Security and Peace from the University for Peace, Costa Rica. His current research interests include the application of information technologies to anti-war and pro-peace movements.