There is an increasing spirit of global environmental citizenship.”
Deputy Resident Representative in Saudi Arabia , United Nations Development Programme
When Kishan Khoday was deciding which law schools to apply to in the mid-1990s, he was drawn by Vermont Law School's top-ranked environmental law program. Kishan, who is from Montreal, also liked what he saw in its international law courses and the VLS motto, "Law for the community and the world."
"I took it to heart," says Kishan, who works for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the U.N.'s largest provider of assistance to countries in the areas of governance reform and energy- environment with a presence in more than 177 countries.
Kishan began his U.N. career during his time at VLS as the UNDP Law Reform Advisor and Deputy Coordinator for Natural Resources and the Environment in Indonesia (1997-2005). That period was just after the fall of the Suharto regime and a change from decades of autocratic forms of natural resource governance to ones based on social accountability and indigenous rights. The ability to undertake his J.D. while commencing his U.N. career was a formative process for Kishan. "Applying what I learned at VLS in real time has shaped the way I think about law and sustainable development ever since," he says.
Kishan went on to serve as the UNDP Assistant Representative and Team Leader for Energy-Environment in China (2005-2009), where he led a $500 million portfolio of 50 U.N. projects to help implement the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol, the U.N. Biodiversity Convention and the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances. A special focus was also on environmental justice and the launch of a new U.N. initiatives in Tibet, where ecological change stands as an existential threat to the future of development.
"My years in China were an amazing experience, leading U.N. efforts to improve compliance with multi-lateral environmental agreements from the bottom up at a time when China was just ‘opening up' to its new role as a global citizen," says Kishan. During a visit to Beijing at the time, VLS Dean Jeff Shields met with Kishan and they touched on the role of the international environmental law courses he took while at VLS. Kishan recalls how it was a part of a "nice global edge" he found at VLS that prepared him for his work in China and elsewhere.
In recent years, Kishan has shifted from east to west Asia. He is now based in the Persian Gulf as the UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Saudi Arabia (2009-ongoing). While Saudi Arabia has the planet's largest oil reserves, it is less known that the nation has the world's second-fastest growth rates in energy use after China. Declining oil reserves are now a major concern, so Kishan and his team at the UNDP are engaged in supporting new energy efficiency and renewable energy laws, policies and measures that could catalyze a shift to a low-carbon future. Kishan also serves as an advisor to the UNDPs Arab Region Center in Cairo on how issues of energy and the environment relate to the Arab Revolution. "Control over resources and the environment has been central to legitimacy and power in the region, shaping autocratic systems of governance and influencing how sovereignty functions," he says.
Kishan is also engaged in various global U.N. initiatives, advising UNDP International Policy Center in Brazil on issues of social accountability and environmental justice in the lead up to the 2012 Rio Earth Summit and serving as Contributor to the 2011 UNDP Arab Development Challenges Report. In the past, he also served as Lead Author in the 2005 U.N. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and Contributor to the 2007/08 UNDP Human Development Report on Climate Change. He publishes regularly on the interface of law and sustainable development in various academic journals, was recognized in 2007 as a global CNN/Time Principal Voice on Climate Change & Energy and represented the U.N. as a "Green Torch Runner" in the official 2008 Beijing Olympics Torch Relay.
To this day, Kishan says his career is guided by his time at VLS and its motto, "Law for the community and the world." He sums it up this way: "There is an increasing spirit of global environmental citizenship, a desire to address ecological change as a matter of common concern for all humanity."