Dec. 18, 2023

UCalgary celebrates launch of world’s 1st United Nations University Hub

Passion, enthusiasm and ‘commitment to getting things done’ draws UN think tank to partner with UCalgary water researchers
UNU group
The UNU Hub Founding Fellows and Research Cluster leads pose for a photo with leadership from UNU-INWEH, Alberta Innovates, and UCalgary. Adrian Shellard photos, for the University of Calgary

On Dec 13, 2023, the University of Calgary made history, being named the home of the world’s first United Nations University (UNU) Hub, through a partnership with the UNU Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH). It is the first Hub to be created by the UNU, and will focus on water research. The creation of the UNU Hub was formalized at the event by the signing of an Memorandum of Understanding between UCalgary and the UNU.

UCalgary’s UNU Hub on Empowering Communities to Adapt to Environmental Change will collaborate with UNU-INWEH, the UN's think tank on water, to develop the scientific understanding, solutions, and skilled workforce required to mitigate and adapt to climate threats that affect ecosystems, economies, personal safety, and ways of life around the world.

“We are honoured to be chosen as the site of the world’s first UNU Hub, building on our already substantial capacity in this very important area,” says Dr. Ed McCauley, president and vice-chancellor. “UCalgary’s researchers will expand our knowledge base and offer solutions to mitigate and manage the complex changes underway in our water resources. They will do so with transdisciplinary research, experiential learning, and our commitments to Indigenous engagement and reconciliation that incorporate Indigenous leadership and knowledge.”

A man in a suit stands behind a podium giving a speech with a Canadian flag behind him

Kaveh Madani, director of UNU-INWEH, speaks at the launch ceremony.

Other speakers at the event included Elder Wallace Alexson; Dr. Kerry Black, PhD, assistant professor in the Schulich School of Engineering; Alexandra Bugailiskis, chair of the UNU-INWEH International Advisory Committee and former Ambassador for Canada; George Chahal, member of parliament for Calgary-Skyview; Dr. Martyn Clark, PhD, interim executive director of the UNU Hub and professor in the Schulich School of Engineering; Laura Kilcrease, CEO of Alberta Innovates; and Dr. Kaveh Madani, PhD, director of UNU-INWEH.

Madani shared his appreciation of the calibre of water research at UCalgary, what drew him to the institution as a partner for the first UNU Hub.

“We appreciated meeting the people at the University of Calgary, and seeing your passion, enthusiasm, vision, and commitment to getting things done,” says Madani. “Innovation is part of your agenda. Now we have an accelerator for those who want to change the world and make a positive impact, thanks to your commitment to be different.”

Clark spoke on the goals of the UNU Hub, and the impact it will have on UCalgary, creating a vibrant intellectual environment to advance policy-relevant research and training.

A man wears a suit behind a podium with a canadian flag behind him

Martyn Clark, interim executive director of the UNU Hub, speaks at the launch ceremony.

The Hub’s reach will be global, with outcomes that are accessible and applicable beyond Canada, extending to the Global South.

“I'm genuinely thrilled to extend a warm welcome for everyone to the Hub as we commence activities in the New Year,” Clark says. “I encourage your active participation in the Hub’s initiatives. Let’s collaborate to establish a global network of excellence bridging the gap between science, policy and society.”

The Hub’s research program will be rooted in four clusters, led by world-class scholars, collaborating to bring their expertise to bear on four essential areas of water studies: 

  • Understanding changes in aquatic ecosystems
  • Evaluating risks of infectious diseases in a changing climate
  • Environmental predictions for water sustainability, and
  • Building resilience in Indigenous communities.

It will also offer training opportunity for students of all levels, including joint graduate degree programs, international internships, and summer training. “We have built this partnership in a way that will create experiential learning opportunities for our students to succeed as global changemakers,” says Clark. 

A closeup shot of a woman in a black jacket with white hair and red glasses speaking to the press

Alexandra Bugailiskis speaks with media following the event.

The leaders also spoke of the importance of water research to address the serious impacts of climate change.

“During my many postings abroad, I came to understand that one of the key indicators for development is a country's ability to access and manage water,” says Bugailiskis. “Water is indeed at the heart of adaptation to climate change, serving as a crucial link between the climate system, human society and the environment. And as a diplomat, I've seen how water is closely connected to the socio-political world and how it contributes both positively and unfortunately negatively to risks such as famine, migration, epidemics, inequality and of course, political conflict.”

“Farmers in this country are suffering, and we don't have plans for our communities that are struggling with water,” says Madani. “Water is not only the issue of health and sanitation in the Global South – it's a serious issue that is threatening us everywhere in the world.”

“But the world is tired of us telling them that doomsday is coming and there is no solution,” he continues. “They want to know about the solutions. We're committed to showcasing good solutions, and if there is expertise in this country, to make sure the world benefits from it.”

For more information on the UNU Hub, visit