Ms. Bárcena assumed 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, Chef de Cabinet and Deputy Chef de Cabinet to the former Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan.
Alicia Bárcena held the post of Deputy Executive Secretary and Director of ECLAC's Environment and Human Settlements Division. Prior to her time at ECLAC, Ms. Bárcena served as Co-ordinator 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 honoris causa doctorates from the University of Oslo, Norway, in September 2014, the University of Havana, Cuba, in March 2016, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in September 2019. In July 2015, she was appointed by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) as extraordinary teacher to collaborate at the Economics School and other entities. On 1 October 2014 she received the medal 2013 in International Relations of the University of Anáhuac.