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. His most recent work revolves around Circular Economy, a field that he feels passionate about, and for which he has high expectations. 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.

Marco Quesada is currently the country-program Director of Conservation International’s Costa Rica Program. He has an undergraduate (B.Sc., 1996) and a masters (M.Sc., 2001) degree in biology from Universidad de Costa Rica and a Ph.D. from the Department of Marine Affairs of the University of Rhode Island. While his M.Sc. thesis was done on the subject of marine zooplankton ecology, his Ph.D. dissertation was developed on the subject of community participation in fisheries management. Marco has participated in scholar exchanges in Portland State University (US) and the University of La Rochelle (Fra), and has been a professor at U. Peace, Universidad de Costa Rica and conducted research in Costa Rica and Alaska, U.S. He is a member of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Stakeholder Council, the Blue Carbon Scientific Working Group, acts as a national delegate to the InterAmerican Tropical Tuna Commission and is part of Costa Rica’s Commission against illegal fishing, as well as several other public and private advisory bodies.
Mohit is an innovator in the area of organizational development, focusing on developing and delivering programs on leadership, innovation, organizational well-being and social impact. He is the founding Director of the UPEACE Centre for Executive Education. In this role, he has developed and taught over 75 seminars in several countries (Haiti, USA, Switzerland, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Puerto Rico, India, Bangladesh, Costa Rica and the U.K) on themes ranging from ‘Designing Your Life’ to ‘Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Social Change’. While providing leadership to the UPEACE Centre for Executive Education, Mohit has also taken on consulting engagements with Florida International University and Watson Institute, an incubator for social entrepreneurs. Prior to this, Mohit served as Education Program Manager of the Earth Charter Initiative, an international nonprofit organization. He also spent four years at A.T. Kearney management consultants in San Francisco. Mohit has a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering from Stanford University, and did his Master’s at 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., is the Head of the Environment, Development and Peace Department, and assistant professor at the University for Peace. She is also an adjunct professor for Long Island University and teaches in their Global Studies programme. In the last decade, Olivia’s research program has focused on food security, sustainable agriculture, climate change, environmental justice, and gender. Specifically, she works with Indigenous people, women, small-scale farmers, and youth on these topics. Her research is driven by social and environmental justice and she uses relevant methodologies (e.g., Indigenous, feminist) to achieve these goals. Olivia is also 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.