Professor Kaveh Madani is an environmental scientist, educator, and activist, working at the interface of science, policy, and society. He is the Director of the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), known as the UN Think Tank on Water. He has previously served as the Deputy Vice President of Iran in his position as the Deputy Head of Iran’s Department of Environment, the Vice President of the UN Environment Assembly Bureau, and the Chief of Iran’s Department of Environment’s International Affairs and Conventions Center.
He is a Research Professor at the City University of New York’s Remote Sensing Earth Systems Institute (CUNY CREST). Professor Madani is known internationally for his work on integrating game theory into water resources management models as well as his role in raising public awareness about water and environmental problems in his home country, Iran. He joined the United Nations University in 2021 as the Head of the Nexus Research Programme at UNU-FLORES where he founded UNU's Resource Nexus AID (Analytics, Informatics and Data) Program.
His work is focused on complex human-natural systems. He is an expert in developing and applying mathematical, economic and systems analysis models to complex problems involving water, energy, food, climate and environment to derive policy and governance insights. He has co-authored nearly 200 publications with his students and colleagues out of their work in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Middle East on issues such as water management, environmental policy, energy systems, food security, climate change impacts and adaptation, sustainable development, environmental security/diplomacy, and transboundary-conflicts and negotiations.
Kaveh Madani has shown a strong leadership in community-building activities and has served as a promoter of initiatives that raise the profile of his research community. Madani has been successful in bridging the gap between academic theory and practice by addressing progressive and socially significant problems and by communicating his findings not only to other researchers and policy makers, but also to the public, in order to raise awareness around key environmental issues.
In recent years, he has played a major role in raising public awareness about water and environmental problems in Iran. Through extensive research and outreach efforts, he was influential in redirecting the discussions on ‘water bankruptcy’ in Iran and calling for fundamental policy reforms. This led to his nomination for executive and political positions with a strong support from Iranian environmental NGOs and activists. Named by the international media as the "Symbol of Expatriate Return" and “Iran’s Expat Eco-warrior”, Madani returned to Iran after 14 years to serve as the Deputy Head of the Department of Environment. Madani was 36 when he took office, making him the youngest member of President Rouhani’s administration at his level.
He held different strategic roles during his public service as a politician, including serving as the Chair of the National Committee on International Climate Change Negotiations, Vice President of the National Committee of Sustainable Development, Elected Member of the Supreme Council of Iran’s House of Farmers, Technical Committee Member of Iran’s Supreme Water Council, Strategic Committee Member of the Lake Urmia Restoration Task Force, Member of the Iran-Afghanistan Negotiations Workgroup on Water, and member of the Science, Research and Technology Commission in the President’s Office. He also oversaw the College of Environment, Iran’s oldest school on environmental training and research, with both undergraduate and post-graduate students, as well as the country’s Research Center for Sustainable Development and Environment Research.
Among his major accomplishments during his tenure in Iran are the successful banning of plastic bottled water in the Department of Environment units in 31 provinces and the national banning on super deep groundwater mining. By running a national campaign on waste, Madani was influential in raising public awareness about waste and plastic pollution in Iran. He was the initiator of the popular Bi-Zobaleh (No Waste) challenge, a social game that reminded both citizens and decision makers about their responsibilities on waste using the “Let’s Start with Ourselves” slogan. Bi-Zobaleh turned into a viral social media game in Iran with many celebrities, top politicians, influential figures, activists and the public from all walks of life joining the challenge from different parts of the country, sharing their innovative solutions and actions on waste reduction in the environment. The move resulted in raising the national sensitivity to the waste issue, which subsequently encouraged many public waste collection events around the country followed by plastic bottled water bans in some city councils, including major cities like Tabriz, Rasht and Isfahan.
Being in charge of the international relations of Iran’s Department of Environment, in his diplomatic role, Madani led Iran’s delegation in different major intergovernmental meetings and negotiations, including the 23rd United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP23), 3rd Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-3), One Planet Summit, 2017 Asia Pacific Carbon Forum (APCF 2017), and Asia-Pacific Civil Society Forum on Sustainable Development 2018. In UNEA-3, he was elected as the Vice President of the UN Environment Assembly Bureau on behalf of the Asia-Pacific countries, securing a seat for Iran at that level for the first time. Madani was a High Level Group Member of Global Environment Outlook of UNEP and has been a contributor to the United Nations Environmental Management Group’s (UN EMG) Nexus Dialogues Series on the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He has interacted with various other international and intergovernmental organizations such as World Bank, FAO, UNESCO, UNDP, and ISESCO, and was influential in shaping UN ESCAP’s efforts on combating sand and dust storms in the Asia-Pacific region.
Before his public service, Kaveh Madani was a tenured faculty at the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London. Prior to that,, he was an Assistant Professor of Civil, Environmental, and Construction Engineering and an Alex Alexander Fellow at the University of Central Florida (UCF), where he founded and directed the Hydro-Environmental & Energy Systems Analysis (HEESA) Research Group. He served as the Founding Director of WaterSISWEB (2008-2017). Over his career, he has held research and teaching positions at different universities around the world, including Yale University, Stockholm University, Cornell University, Lund University, UC Irvine, UC Davis, UC Riverside, K.N.Toosi University of Technology, and Dalian University of Technology.
He has advised/co-advised more than 70 graduate (M.Sc. and Ph.D.) students and post-doctoral scholars and has received several awards and recognitions for his fundamental research contributions, teaching innovations, as well as outreach and humanitarian activities. Among these are the recognition by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) as a New Face of Civil Engineering, Arne Richter Award for Outstanding Young Scientists from the European Geosciences Union (EGU), Hydrologic Sciences Early Career Award from the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the ASCE’s Walter L. Huber Civil Engineering Research Prize, and the AGU's Ambassador Award. He is a Fellow of AGU and EWRI (Environmental and Water Resources Institute, ASCE).