Ms. Bárcena took office as the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) on 1 July 2008.
She had previously served as the Under-Secretary-General for Management at United Nations Headquarters in New York (in 2007 - 2008), during the mandate of the former Secretary-General, Mr. Ban-ki Moon, and as Chef de Cabinet and Deputy Chef de Cabinet (in 2006 - 2007) to the former Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan.
Alicia Bárcena previous held the post of Deputy Executive Secretary and Director of ECLAC's Environment and Human Settlements Division of ECLAC (between 2003 and 2006).
Prior to her time at ECLAC, Ms. Bárcena served as Coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Sustainable Development Programme of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), responsible for the Environmental Citizenship Project at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Alicia Bárcena was the Founding Director of the Earth Council in Costa Rica, a non-governmental organization in charge of follow-up to the agreements reached at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992.
Ms. Bárcena has published numerous articles on sustainable development, public policy, environmental issues, and public participation. Alicia Bárcena holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM, in Spanish), as well as a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard University. She has completed the courses for a degree of Master in Ecology and has initiated studies for a PhD degree in Economics at the UNAM.
She has been awarded an honoris causa doctorate by the University of Oslo, Norway, in September 2014, and honoris causa doctorates in economics by the University of Havana, Cuba, in March 2016, and by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), in September 2019. In July 2014, she was appointed by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) as special professor to collaborate at the Economics School and other entities.