Dr Grethel Aguilar, born in Costa Rica, assumed office as Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in October 2023. Dr Aguilar brings with her thirty years of experience in conservation and sustainable development, having worked extensively on developing and applying environmental law and policy in collaboration with governments and civil society. In particular, she is deeply passionate about the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities and has pushed for the inclusion of their knowledge and experience in mainstream conservation policy.
Through her work in field projects, Dr Aguilar has helped communities access clean water, advocated environmental justice, assisted Indigenous peoples in obtaining rights to their natural resources, and championed gender equality in environmental governance.
Before assuming office as Director General, Dr Aguilar served as IUCN’s Acting Director General in 2019-20, and again in 2023. She also held the position of Deputy Director General – Regions and Outposted Offices, starting in 2021. She previously served as Regional Director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, a role she took on in 2005. As Regional Director, Dr Aguilar oversaw the development and effective implementation of the IUCN Programme throughout the region and managed a wide range of issues, from ecosystem-based resource management strategies and policies to organisational management and financial planning. In 2017 she also began providing support to the IUCN South America Regional Office.
Before joining IUCN, Dr Aguilar worked at the Costa Rican Environmental Law Center between 1992 and 1996, advocating for the rights of Indigenous peoples and for nature conservation. From 1996 to 2005 she worked as a consultant for bodies such as the Central America Commission for Environment and Development and various governments. Dr Aguilar provided expert advice to the United Nations Environment Programme on access to genetic resources and benefit sharing. She also helped establish the Group of Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries – countries with a great diversity of species and ecosystems.
As a firm believer in educating and inspiring the next generation Dr Aguilar has taught at the University of Costa Rica, the Latin American University of Science and Technology, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) and the Metropolitan Autonomous University of Mexico. She has also authored multiple publications in the fields of environmental law and policy, including Forest Legality in Mesoamerica (IUCN, 2015) and Governance of Shared Waters: Legal and Institutional Issues (IUCN, 2009).
She served as the 2018 Dorothy S. McCluskey Visiting Fellow in Conservation at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and in 2001 received the title of Doctor of Law Outstanding cum laude from the University of Alicante, Spain for her thesis ‘Legal Instruments for Access to Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge in Indigenous Territories’.