The United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) is a research and teaching institute dedicated to realising a sustainable future for people and our planet. Based in Tokyo, Japan, UNU-IAS serves the international community by producing evidence-based knowledge and solutions to inform policymaking and address priority issues for the UN system.
Through policy-oriented research and capacity development the institute drives progress in four thematic areas: governance for sustainable development, biodiversity & society, water & resource management, and innovation & education. UNU-IAS creates new value by integrating expertise across these areas, in both academia and policymaking, to mobilise knowledge for sustainability and advance the global effort to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. It applies innovative approaches and research methods to challenge conventional thinking and develop creative solutions to emerging issues of global concern. The institute’s research, education, and training engage a global network of scholars and partner institutions, driving interconnectedness between policymakers and the science and academic communities to realise sustainable solutions. Through field-based research, including an operating unit in Kanazawa City (Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan), UNU-IAS is developing models for localising the SDGs and other global agendas by building multi-stakeholder partnerships.
UNU-IAS postgraduate education advances the broader transformation towards sustainability in society — producing the policymakers and researchers of tomorrow, who will be at the forefront of global efforts for sustainability. The institute offers master’s and doctoral degrees, postdoctoral fellowships, and innovative short courses, in close collaboration with leading universities in Japan and other countries.
UNU-IAS is an institute of the United Nations University (UNU) with a specific mandate to address sustainability issues. UNU is a global think tank and postgraduate teaching organisation comprising 14 institutes, located in 12 different countries. Its mission is to contribute, through collaborative research and education, to efforts to resolve the pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare that are the concern of the United Nations, its Peoples and Member States. In carrying out this mission, UNU works with leading universities and research institutes in UN Member States, functioning as a bridge between the international academic community and the United Nations system. As part of the UN family of organisations, UNU maintains close working relationships with other UN agencies, programmes, commissions, funds and convention secretariats.
1. Governance for Sustainable Development
Advancing sustainable development depends on translating the global vision of the SDGs and related agendas into practice, and ensuring their effective implementation. UNU-IAS mobilises knowledge, expertise, and partnerships to strengthen governance and policymaking processes for sustainable development and localise these urgent global agendas. Our research explores interactions between SDGs and with related efforts on decarbonisation, the circular economy, and digital transformation, among others. UNU-IAS contributes to global policy dialogue on sustainable development and builds capacity at the local, national, and regional levels through technical advice and training activities, in close collaboration with partners in the UN system and beyond.
2. Biodiversity & Society
Action on biodiversity is urgently needed to sustain a healthy planet and the lives that it supports. UNU-IAS advances human–environment solutions to accelerate transformational change toward living in harmony with nature. Our research provides evidence-based inputs for implementing the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, with a focus on sustainable management of production landscapes and seascapes. As the secretariat of the International Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative (IPSI), UNU-IAS mobilises efforts by 279 member organisations across the globe to build mutually beneficial human–nature relationships. Through technical and institutional capacity development activities, the institute supports governments and other stakeholders in applying landscape approaches and promotes participatory, inclusive management.
3. Water & Resource Management
Water is at the core of sustainable development, linking livelihoods, health, ecosystems, and infrastructure. Ensuring access to clean water and sanitation for all requires a transformation in the way we manage water resources. UNU-IAS is developing sustainable, decentralised approaches to overcome the water crisis, enhance resilience, and help build decarbonised, circular economies. Our research contributes to policy dialogue at the global level, including the UN World Water Development Report, as well as regional and local action and development planning. We promote integrated management of water resources at the community level, fostering collaboration between local researchers and practitioners to explore alternative water resources.
4. Innovation & Education
Building more sustainable societies relies fundamentally on fostering creative, innovative solutions and empowering individuals through education. UNU-IAS accelerates knowledge generation and lifelong learning for a sustainability transformation, through policy-oriented research, capacity development, and partnerships. Focusing on education for sustainable development (ESD), we advance the global ESD for 2030 Agenda to engage learners of all ages in achieving the SDGs, harnessing innovative technology to reach the marginalised. In doing so UNU-IAS mobilises global and regional networks, including the Regional Centres of Expertise on ESD (RCEs) and the higher education alliance Promotion of Sustainability in Postgraduate Education and Research Network (ProSPER.Net).
UNU-IAS was inaugurated on 1 January 2014. It was formed through the consolidation of two previous UNU institutes: the UNU Institute of Advanced Studies based in Yokohama, and the UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP) based in Tokyo. UNU-IAS builds on the strong foundations of these two previous institutes, and of more than 45 years of UNU academic activities in Tokyo.
The first of these two institutes, the UNU Institute of Advanced Studies, was established in 1996 to explore interactions of social and natural systems and identify strategic paths to sustainable development. Its projects focused on biodiversity, sustainable development governance, urban ecosystems, science and technology policy options for developing and least developed countries, and education for sustainable development. It launched a postgraduate degree programme in 2011, the Master of Science in Environmental Governance with Specialization in Biodiversity.
The UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace was established in 2009, integrating two previous UNU academic programmes based at UNU headquarters in Tokyo: the UNU Environment and Sustainable Development Programme and the UNU Peace and Governance Programme. The activities of UNU-ISP were in three areas— global change, peace and human rights, and development—with a mandate to address the interconnections between pressing global issues in these areas. UNU-ISP introduced UNU’s first postgraduate degree in September 2010, the Master of Science in Sustainability, Development and Peace.
For more information on previous degree programmes and courses, please visit the past courses page.
Dr Shinobu Yume Yamaguchi assumed leadership of UNU-IAS in November 2019. Her fields of specialisation include international development and cooperation, ICT in education, reform and policy of education, science and technology policy, and the application of technology in world heritage site preservation. Prior to this post, Dr Yamaguchi worked at Tokyo Institute of Technology as an Associate Professor (2002‒2006) and then full Professor (from 2006). In 2005‒2007, she concurrently served as Advisor to the President.
Before joining Tokyo Institute of Technology, Dr Yamaguchi worked for the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), first at the Paris headquarters, and then in the Beijing Office. While with UNESCO, she was involved primarily in the development of education systems in China, Indonesia, Mongolia, and Pakistan.
Dr Yamaguchi is an Associate Member of the Science Council of Japan, and an active member of the Comparative and International Education Society, the Japan Society for International Development, Educational Research Association, and the World Council of Comparative Education Societies. She also has served on numerous committees focused on international activities and comparative educational studies, including those organised by the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.
Dr Yamaguchi holds a PhD in Economics of Education from Columbia University (New York). She has authored or co-authored more than 200 publications and conference/seminar presentations.