United Nations Environment Programme

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP, UN Environment[1]) is a programme of the United Nations[2] that coordinates the organization's environmental activities and assists developing countries in implementing environmentally sound policies and practices. It was founded by Maurice Strong, its first director, as a result of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm Conference) in June 1972 and has overall responsibility for environmental problems among United Nations agencies; however, international talks on specialized issues, such as addressing climate change or combating desertification, are overseen by other UN organizations, like the Bonn-based Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. UNEP's activities cover a wide range of issues regarding the atmosphere, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, environmental governance and green economy. It has played a significant role in developing international environmental conventions, promoting environmental science and information and illustrating the way those can be implemented in conjunction with policy, working on the development and implementation of policy with national governments, regional institutions in conjunction with environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs). UNEP has also been active in funding and implementing environment related development projects.

United Nations Environment Programme
AbbreviationUN Environment
Formation5 June 1972 (1972-06-05)
Legal statusActive
Inger Andersen since 2019
Parent organization
United Nations

UN Environment has aided in the formulation of guidelines and treaties on issues such as the international trade in potentially harmful chemicals, transboundary air pollution, and contamination of international waterways. Relevant documents, including scientific papers, are available via the UNEP Document Repository.[3]

The World Meteorological Organization and UN Environment established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. UN Environment is also one of several Implementing Agencies for the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol, and it is also a member of the United Nations Development Group.[4] The International Cyanide Management Code, a programme of best practice for the chemical's use at gold mining operations, was developed under UN Environment's aegis.


The need of the developing laws such as the International Labor Organization(ILO), the Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO), and the World Health Organization(WHO), led to the 1972 United Nations Conference on Human Environment (the Stockholm Conference) to tackle the pollution caused by the industrial revolution during the 1960s and 1970s. In this conference, various topics including marine life, protection of resources, environment change, disasters related to nature, and biological change were discussed. This conference resulted in a Declaration on the Human Environment (Stockholm Declaration) and the establishment of an environmental management body, which later was named United Nations Environment Program(UNEP). UNEP was established by General Assembly Resolution 2997.[5] Headquarters were established in Nairobi and Kenya with a staff of 300, including 100 professionals in a variety of fields, and with a five-year fund of more than US$100 million.[6] At the time, US$40 million were pledged by The United States and the remainder by 50 other nations. The Voluntary Indicative Scale of Contribution (VISC) established in 2002 has the role to increase the supporters of the UNEP.[7] The finances related to all programs of UNEP is voluntarily contributed by U.N. member states. The Environmental Fund, which all nations of UNEP invest in, is the core source of UNEP’ s programs.[5] Between 1974 and 1986 UNEP produced more than 200 technical guidelines or manuals on environment including forest and water management, pest control, pollution monitoring, the relationship between chemical use and health, and management of industry.[8]


Executive Director

UNEP's former acting Executive Director Joyce Msuya took office in November 2018, following the resignation of Erik Solheim. Prior to that appointment, she was UNEP's Deputy Executive Director.[9]

In December 1972, the UN General Assembly unanimously elected Maurice Strong to be the first head of UN Environment. Also Secretary General of both the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which launched the world environment movement, and the 1992 Earth Summit, Strong has played a critical role in globalizing the environmental movement.

The position was then held for 17 years (1975–1992) by Dr. Mostafa Kamal Tolba, who was instrumental in bringing environmental considerations to the forefront of global thinking and action. Under his leadership, UN Environment's most widely acclaimed success—the historic 1987 agreement to protect the ozone layer—the Montreal Protocol was negotiated. He was succeeded by Elizabeth Dowdeswell (1992–1998), Klaus Töpfer (1998–2006), Achim Steiner (2006–2016), and Erik Solheim (2016–2018).

List of executive directors

# Picture Name
Nationality Took office Left office
1Maurice Strong[10]
2Mostafa Kamal Tolba
3Elizabeth Dowdeswell
(born 1944)
4Klaus Töpfer
(born 1938)
5Achim Steiner
(born 1961)
6Erik Solheim
(born 1955)
7Joyce Msuya
(born 1968)
8Inger Andersen[11]
(born 1958)

Environment Assembly

The United Nations Environment Assembly is UNEP's governing body. Created in June 2012 to replace the Governing Council, it currently has 193 members and meets every two years.[12]


UNEP's structure includes eight substantive Divisions:

  • Science Division
  • Policy and Programme Division
  • Ecosystems Division
  • Economy Division
  • Governance Affairs Office
  • Law Division
  • Communication Division


UNEP's main activities are related to:[13]

  • climate change
  • disasters and conflicts
    • Disasters and Conflicts UNEP has endeavored to lighten the influence of emergencies or natural disasters on human health and to prepare for future disasters. It contributes to the reduction of the origin of disasters by controlling the balance of ecosystems and actively support Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction which aims to reduce the risk of disasters(DRR). As well as preventing natural disasters, the UNEP supports countries such as to make laws or policies which protect the countries from getting serious damage by disasters. Since 1999 it has helped 40 countries to recover from the effect of disasters.[14]
  • ecosystem management
  • environmental governance
  • environment under review
    • UNEP provides information and data on the global environment to stakeholders including governments, non-governmental organizations and the public for them to engage in realizing the Sustainable Development Goals.  The information which UNEP shares is based on the latest science and is collected in a proper way. This makes policy makers find reliable information effectively.  Through this The Environment Outlook and the Sustainable Development Goals Indicators stakeholders can have access to information easily. In addition, the UN environment Live Platform and Online Access to Research in Environment(OARE) provide transparent information collected by UNEP.[15]
  • harmful substances
  • resource efficiency

Awards programs

Several awards programs have been established to recognize outstanding work in the environmental field. The Global 500 Roll of Honour was initiated in 1987 and ended in 2003. Its 2005 successor, Champions of the Earth, and a similar award, Young Champions of the Earth, are given annually to entrepreneurs, scientists, policy leaders, upcoming talent, individuals and organizations who make significant positive impacts on resources and the environment in their areas.

Notable achievements

UNEP has registered several successes, such as the 1987 Montreal Protocol for limiting emissions of gases blamed for thinning the planet's protective ozone layer, and the 2012 Minamata Convention, a treaty to limit toxic mercury.[16]

UNEP has sponsored the development of solar loan programmes, with attractive return rates, to buffer the initial deployment costs and entice consumers to consider and purchase solar PV systems. The most famous example is the solar loan programme sponsored by UN Environment helped 100,000 people finance solar power systems in India.[17] Success in India's solar programme has led to similar projects in other parts of the developing world, including Tunisia, Morocco, Indonesia and Mexico.

UNEP sponsors the Marshlands project in the Middle East. In 2001, UN Environment alerted about the destruction of the Marshlands when it released satellite images showing that 90 percent of the Marshlands had been lost. The UN Environment "support for Environmental Management of the Iraqi Marshland" began in August 2004, to manage the Marshland area in an environmentally sound manner.[18]

UN Environment has a programme for young people known as Tunza. Within this programme are other projects like the AEO for Youth.[19]

International Environmental Education Programme (1975-1995)

For two decades, UNESCO and UNEP led the International Environmental Education Programme (1975-1995), which set out a vision for, and gave practical guidance on how to mobilize education for environmental awareness. In 1976, UNESCO launched an environmental education newsletter ‘Connect’ as the official organ of the UNESCO-UNEP International Environmental Education Programme (IEEP). It served as a clearinghouse to exchange information on Environmental Education (EE) in general and to promote the aims and activities of the IEEP in particular, as well as being a network for institutions and individuals interested and active in environment education until 2007.[20]

Climate change

UNEP in 1989, 30 years ago, predicted "entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000."[21][22]

UNEP in 2005, 14 years ago, predicted "50 million people could become environmental refugees by 2010, fleeing the effects of climate change."'[23]

Glaciers are shrinking at record rates and many could disappear within decades, the UN Environment Programme said on 16 March 2008. The scientists measuring the health of almost 30 glaciers around the world found that ice loss reached record levels in 2006. On average, the glaciers shrank by 4.9 feet in 2006, the most recent year for which data are available. The most severe loss was recorded at Norway's Breidalblikkbrea glacier, which shrank 10.2 feet in 2006. Glaciers lost an average of about a foot of ice a year between 1980 and 1999. But since the turn of the millennium the average loss has increased to about 20 inches.[24]

Electric vehicles

At the fifth Magdeburg Environmental Forum held from 3–4 July 2008, in Magdeburg, Germany, UN Environment and car manufacturer Daimler called for the establishment of infrastructure for electric vehicles. At this international conference, 250 high-ranking representatives from the world of politics and non-government organizations discussed solutions for future road transportation under the motto of "Sustainable Mobility–the Post-2012 CO2 Agenda".[25]

Circular economy

UN Environment is the co-chair and a founding partner (along with groups such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation) for the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy, which is a public-private partnership of over 50 global organizations and governments seeking to support the rapid transition to a global Circular economy.[26]

The Regional Seas Program

The world's only legal program which was established in 1974 for the purpose of protecting the oceans and seas at the regional level. More than 143 countries participate in 18 regional programs including Caribbean Region, East Asian Seas, Eastern African Region, Mediterranean Region, North-West Pacific Region, Western Africa Region, Caspian Sea, Black Sea Region, North-East Pacific Region, Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, ROPME Sea Area, South Asian Seas, South-Easy Pacific Region, Pacific Region, Artic Region, Antarctic Region, Baltic Sea, and North-East Atlantic Region. Each program consists of countries which share the same sea and they manage the sea at the regional level. The programs are controlled by secretariats or Regional Coordinating Units (RCUs) and Regional Activity Centers (RACs).[27] UNEP realizes the protection of the seas by promoting international and regional conventions  through education and training based on the assessment of how the region is polluted and how the pollution damages human body.[28]


UNEP publishes many reports, atlases and newsletters. For instance, the fifth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-5) assessment is a comprehensive report on environment, development and human well-being, providing analysis and information for policy makers and the concerned public. One of many points in the GEO-5 warns that we are living far beyond our means. It notes that the human population is now so large that the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available.

In June 2010, a report from UN Environment declared that a global shift towards a vegan diet was needed to save the world from hunger, fuel shortages and climate change.[29]

International years

(International) Patron of the Year of the Dolphin was H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, with Special Ambassador to the cause being Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys musical group.[30]

  • 2010 – International Year of Biodiversity
  • 2011 – International Year of Forests
  • 2012 – International Year for Sustainable Energy for All
  • 2013 – International Year of Water Cooperation
  • 2014- International Year of Family Farming,
  • 2015- International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies
  • 2016- International Year of Pulses
  • 2017- International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development

See international observance and list of environmental dates.)


Following the publication of Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in February 2007, the "Paris Call for Action" read out by French President Jacques Chirac and supported by 46 countries called for the United Nations Environment Programme to be replaced by a new and more powerful "United Nations Environment Organization (UNEO)", to be modelled on the World Health Organization. The 46 countries included the European Union nations, but notably did not include the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and China, the top four emitters of greenhouse gases.[31]

In December 2012, following the Rio+20 Summit, a decision by the General Assembly of the United Nations to "strengthen and upgrade"[32] the UN Environment Programme (UN Environment) and establish universal membership of its governing body was confirmed.


2018 funds witholding

In September 2018, the Dutch government announced it would withhold $8 million in funding to UNEP until nepotism issues with regard to the head of the U.N. Environment Programme.[33] Sweden and Denmark stopped funding as well. A spokesman for the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs said the freezing of funds was probably unprecedented.[34]

See also


 This article incorporates text from a free content work. Licensed under CC BY-SA License statement: Issues and trends in Education for Sustainable Development, 26, 27, UNESCO. To learn how to add open license text to Wikipedia articles, please see this how-to page. For information on reusing text from Wikipedia, please see the terms of use.


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  4. "About » UNDG at the Global Level » UNDG". United Nations Development Group. 2017. Retrieved 3 September 2017.
  5. Mark Allan, Gray (1990). "The United Nations Environment Programme: An Assessment". Lewis & Clark Law School. 20 (2): 43–49. JSTOR 43265919.
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  10. Schrijver, Nico (2010). Development Without Destruction: The UN and Global Resource Management. United Nations Intellectual History Project Series. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-253-22197-1.
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  21. JAMES SPIELMANN. "U.N. Predicts Disaster if Global Warming Not Checked". Associated Press. Retrieved 25 February 2019. entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000.
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  31. Doyle, Alister (2007-02-03). "46 nations call for tougher U.N. environment role". Reuters.
  32. Damian Carrington (27 September 2018). "Under-fire UN environment chief forced back to HQ". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 December 2018. a spokesman for the Dutch government told the Guardian: “A planned payment of €8m will be held until Unep provides more clarity, and until it is clear that Unep is taking this matter seriously.” [...] “In relation to any notion of nepotism, I wish to clarify that my spouse was recruited to REV Ocean through an open, transparent and competitive process,” said Solheim
  33. Damian Carrington (25 September 2018). "Nations halt funding to UN environment programme as outcry over chief grows". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 December 2018. the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs thinktank said he thought the freezing of funds was probably unprecedented. “There are many who don’t think Unep is functioning as it should

Further reading

  • United Nations Environment Programme. "Natural Allies: UNEP and Civil Society." Nairobi: United Nations Foundation, 2004.
  • Paul Berthoud, A Professional Life Narrative, 2008, worked with UNEP and offers testimony from the inside of the early years of the organization.
  • Dodds, F., Strauss, M., with Strong, M., 2012, Only One Earth: The Long Road via Rio to Sustainable Development. London Earthscan
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