The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is an agency of United Nations and coordinates its environmental activities, assisting developing countries in implementing environmentally sound policies and practices. It was founded by Maurice Strong1, 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 but 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. UN Environment 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). UN Environment has also been active in funding and implementing environment related development projects. In this paper attempt will be made to deal with the modalities and operations of UNEP and its achievement from inception till date.

1. Maurice Strong was the first director of UNEP


The United Nations is an international organization founded in October 24th 1945.  The mission and work of the United Nations are guided by the purposes and principles contained in its founding Charter. It is currently made up of 193 Member States.  Each of the 193 Member States of the United Nations is a member of the General Assembly.  States are admitted to membership in the UN by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.

The Secretariat, one of the main organs of the United Nation, is organized along departmental lines, with each department or office having a distinct area of action and responsibility. Offices and departments coordinate with each other to ensure cohesion as they carry out the day to day work of the Organization in offices and duty stations around the world.  At the head of the United Nations Secretariat is the Secretary-General.

The UN system, also known unofficially as the “UN family”, is made up of the UN itself and many affiliated programmes, funds, and specialized agencies, all with their own membership, leadership, and budget.  The programmes and funds are financed through voluntary rather than assessed contributions. The Specialized Agencies are independent international organizations funded by both voluntary and assessed contributions.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is one of the affiliates of the United Nations and the leading global environmental authority 2 that sets the global environmental agenda, promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment.

2. UNEP Document Repository. Retrieved 3 September 2017

Its mission is “to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.”


The United Nation Environmental Programme carries out its function by:

  1. Promoting international cooperation in the field of the environment and recommending appropriate policies.
  2. Monitoring the status of the global environment and gathering and disseminating environmental information.
  3. Catalyzing environmental awareness and action to address major environmental threats among governments, the private sector and civil society.
  4. Facilitating the coordination of UN activities on matters concerned with the environment, and ensuring, through cooperation, liaison and participation, that their activities take environmental considerations into account.
  5. Developing regional programmes for environmental sustainability.
  6. Helping, upon request, environment ministries and other environmental authorities, in particular in developing countries and countries with economies in transition, to formulate and implement environmental policies.
  7. Providing country-level environmental capacity building and technology support.
  8. Helping to develop international environmental law, and providing expert advice on the development and use of environmental concepts and instruments.


The UNEP’s structure includes seven substantive Divisions:

  1. EARLY WARNING AND ASSESSMENT (DEWA) The Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) aims to provide timely, scientifically credible, policy-relevant environmental analyses, data and information for decision-making and action planning for sustainable development. It monitors, analyzes and reports on the state of the global environment, assesses global and regional environmental trends and provides early warning of emerging environmental threats. UNEP/DEWA’s definition of Early Warning primarily focuses on identifying slow onset but continuous hazards, such as deforestation, over-use of natural resources and/or impacts from climate change.3
  2. ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY IMPLEMENTATION (DEPI) Environmental policyis the commitment of an organization to the laws, regulations, and other policy mechanisms concerning environmental issues.


These issues generally include air and water pollution, waste management, ecosystem management, maintenance of biodiversity, the protection of natural resources, wildlife and endangered species.4 Concerning environmental policy, the importance of implementation of an eco-energy-oriented policy at a global level to address the issues of global warming and climate changes should be accentuated.5  Policies concerning energy or regulation of toxic substances including pesticides and many types of industrial waste are part of the topic of environmental policy. This policy can be deliberately taken to direct and oversee human activities and thereby prevent harmful effects on the biophysical environment and natural resources, as well as to make sure that changes in the environment do not have harmful effects on humans.6

  1. TECHNOLOGY, INDUSTRY AND ECONOMICS (DTIE) UN agency aiming to bring together industry, government and NGOs to work towards environmentally sound forms of industrial development. Brings together 4 previous UNEP offices (International Environmental Technology Centre, Industry and Environment Programme Activity Centre, UNEP Chemicals, and Economics, Trade and Environment Unit)

4. Ecclestone, Charles H. (2010). Global Environmental Policy: Concepts, Principles, and Practice. ISBN978-1439847664.
5. Eraldo Banovac, Marinko Stojkov, Dražan Kozak. Designing a global energy policy model, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers – Energy, Vol. 170, Issue 1, February, 2017, pp. 2-11.
6. McCormick, John (2001). Environmental Policy in the European Union. The European Series. Palgrave. p. 21.

1. REGIONAL COOPERATION (DRC) The main goal of the Development through Regional Cooperation (DRC) program is to strengthen civil society in around the globe by increasing civil society organizations’ (CSOs) institutional capacity, effective dialogue with respective governments, regional networking and cooperation. The geographic focus includes in its second year, DRC began bridging civil society in Central Asia with CSOs in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

At the regional level, it strengthens regional networking organizations, collaboration and cross-border CSO relations through grant programs, study tours, joint trainings, teleconferences, and the annual international conference, “Insights into Regional Development.”

At the national and local levels it strengthens countrywide networks and key implementing partners’ organizational capacities. Our national partners build the organizational capacity of local CSOs; engage CSOs and government in dialogue and social partnerships; and oversee CSOs’ implementation of grant projects that facilitate community development and advocate for addressing the issues of vulnerable populations.

It further focuses on building the institutional capacity of CSOs and initiative groups in rural areas; and strengthening the connections with CSOs operating in neighboring countries.

2. ENVIRONMENTAL LAW AND CONVENTIONS (DELC) The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has a long history of contributing toward the development and implementation of environmental law. The Division of Environmental Law and Conventions (DELC)is the focal Division within UNEP which oversees the many facets of this global legal framework. Hence, the role of DELC within the framework of UNEP is primarily to ensure the progressive development of environmental law across different environmental sectors and levels of governance.

At a global level, DELC has been pivotal in the facilitation of intergovernmental platforms for the promotion and implementation of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) and defining international environmental norms. At the regional and national scales, DELC has supported many fora as well as the utilisation of resources aimed at strengthening legal principles, policies and guidelines that seek to address environmental issues, especially transboundary legal challenges. These fundamental activities, along with specific sectoral work such as enhancing freshwater and marine law, together form the central aspects of DELC’s work in building and strengthening global environmental laws.

DELC’s current mandate principally stems from the 2009 Montevideo Programme, for the Development and Periodic Review of Environmental Law which forms a broad strategy for the international legal community and UNEP in formulating the activities in the field of environmental law for the decade commencing in 20107


3. THE DIVISION OF COMMUNICATIONS AND PUBLIC INFORMATION (DCPI). Communication lies at the very heart of UNEP’s mandate and effective communication is an integral part of the strategic management of the organization. This division communicates UNEP’s core messages to all stakeholders and partners, raising environmental awareness and enhancing the profile of UNEP worldwide. The main activities of DCPI include but not limited to creating public awareness of environmental issues in the media, Raising UNEP’s profile (and with it concern about the global environment) by organizing specific activities and events and facilitating cooperation with and among selected sectors of society and actors involved in the implementation of the international environmental agenda. Influencing the attitudes, behavior and decisions of those who have or can have an impact on the environment by producing and disseminating printed and audio-visual information. Maintaining the UNEP library and documentation center and responding to public enquiries. 7

4. GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT FACILITYCOORDINATION (DGEF). The Global Environment Facility (GEF) was established on the eve of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to help tackle our planet’s most pressing environmental problems. The GEF unites 183 countries in partnership with international institutions, civil society organizations (CSOs), and the private sector to address global environmental issues while supporting national sustainable development initiatives. Since 1992, the GEF has provided over $17 billion in grants and mobilized an additional $88 billion in financing for more than 4000 projects in 170 countries. Through its Small Grants Programme (SGP), the GEF has invested $450million and leveraged similar levels of co-financing supporting over 14,500 community based projects in over 125 countries.

7b. Organizations Directory of / (2007-2014).

Major activities of UNEP are fundamentally related to:

  1. CLIMATE CHANGE: Climate changeis a change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns when that change lasts for an extended period of time (i.e., decades to millions of years). Climate change may refer to a change in average weather conditions, or in the time variation of weather within the context of longer-term average conditions. Climate change is caused by factors such as biotic processes, variations in solar radiation received by Earth, plate tectonics, and volcanic eruptions. Certain human activities have been identified as primary causes of ongoing climate change, often referred to as global warming.[1] There is no general agreement in scientific, media or policy documents as to the precise term to be used to refer to anthropogenic forced change; either “global warming” or “climate change” may be used.
  2. TERRITORIAL APPROACH TO CLIMATE CHANGE(TACC); The Territorial Approach to Climate Change (TACC) works with local level governments (states, provinces, cities, municipalities) in developing countries and countries in transition to increase resilience to climate change impact and reduce their carbon footprint. The TACC is a partnership of five agencies that includes UNEP, UNDP, UNITAR, UN-Habitat and UNCDF.8  TACC as a global action came into existence after the Saint Malo Declaration.9

Sub-national authorities recognized that urgent and collective action was needed to respond appropriately to climate change.

  1. DISASTERS AND CONFLICTS: UN Environment has “Disasters and Conflicts” sub programme since 1999. UN Environment has responded to environmental disasters and the environmental dimensions of conflicts in numerous countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, South Sudan, Sierra Leone and DR Congo. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the sub programme UN Environment has implemented related projects and activities in Guatemala, Paraguay, Ecuador and Peru and has an extended operational presence in Haiti. The UN Environment’s “Disasters and Conflicts” sub programme has three streams of work:
    • Risk reduction – including ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction; chemical and industrial accident risk reduction; climate-induced security risk; natural resource management in fragile and conflict-affected states; environment and displacement;
    • Emergency response – environmental emergency preparedness and response; post-crisis environmental assessments; environmental impact of humanitarian operations;
    • Long-term recovery – environmental cooperation for peacebuilding; long-term country recovery programmes.
      The UN Environment is undergoing a process of strengthening its regional presence. To this end, ReliefWeb10 noted that regional coordinators for most sub programmes have been placed in regional offices.

8. “Territorial Approach (TACC) to Climate Change”. November 2011. Retrieved November 17, 2011.
9. Saint Malo Declaration, General Assembly Summit of the Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development (nrg4SD), October 2008

This also implies a process of strengthening the quality and scope of the sub programme, to increase UN Environment’s visibility with regional member states and intergovernmental organizations as the leader on environmental issues related to disaster risk management and conflict.

  1. ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT: Ecosystem managementis a process that aims to conserve major ecological services and restore natural resources while meeting the socioeconomic, political and cultural needs of current and  future generations.11 “The emergence of ecosystem management as a tool for meeting people’s needs and sustaining ecosystems”.12

10. ReliefWeb has been the leading online source for reliable and timely humanitarian information on global crises and disasters since 1996.
11. Szaro, R.; Sexton, W.T.; Malone, C.R. (1998).
12. Landscape and Urban Richard, Tracy C (1998). Planning. 40: 1–7. Brussard Peter, F; Reed Michael, J

The principal objective of ecosystem management is the efficient maintenance and ethical use of natural resources.13  It is a multifaceted and holistic approach which requires a significant change in how the natural and human environments are identified.

Several approaches to effective ecosystem management engage conservation efforts at both a local or landscape level and involves: adaptive management, natural resource management, strategic management, and command and control management.

  1. ENVIRONMENTAL GOVERNANCE: Environmental governanceis a concept in political ecology and environmental policy that advocates sustainability (sustainable development) as the supreme consideration for managing all human activities political, social and economic.14  Governance includes government, business and civil society, and emphasizes whole system management. To capture this diverse range of elements, environmental governance often employs alternative systems of governance, for example watershed-based management.15

13. Szaro et al. (1998) Lackey, R.T. (1998). “Seven pillars of ecosystem management”Landscape and Urban Planning40: 21–30.
14. Page 8. The Soft Path in a Nutshell. (2005). Oliver M Brandes and David B Brooks. University of Victoria, Victoria, BC.
15. McCormick, John (2001). Environmental Policy in the European Union. The European Series. Palgrave. p. 21

It views natural resources and the environment as global public goods, belonging to the category of goods that are not diminished when they are shared.16  This means that everyone benefits from for example, a breathable atmosphere, stable climate and stable biodiversity.

Public goods are non-rivalrous—a natural resource enjoyed by one person can still be enjoyed by others—and non-excludable—it is impossible to prevent someone consuming the good (breathing). Nevertheless, public goods are recognized as beneficial and therefore have value. The notion of a global public good thus emerges, with a slight distinction: it covers necessities that must not be destroyed by one person or state.

The non-rivalrous character of such goods calls for a management approach that restricts public and private actors from damaging them. One approach is to attribute an economic value to the resource. Water is possibly the best example of this type of good.

As of 2013 environmental governance is far from meeting these imperatives. “Despite a great awareness of environmental questions from developed and developing countries, there is environmental degradation and the appearance of new environmental problems. This situation is caused by the parlous state of global environmental governance, wherein current global environmental governance is unable to address environmental issues due to many factors.

16. Eccleston, Charles H. (2010). Global Environmental Policy: Concepts, Principles, and Practice. ISBN978-1439847664

These include fragmented governance within the United Nations, lack of involvement from financial institutions, proliferation of environmental agreements often in conflict with trade measures; all these various problems disturb the proper functioning of global environmental governance. Moreover, divisions among northern countries and the persistent gap between developed and developing countries also have to be taken into account to comprehend the institutional failures of the current global environmental governance.”

6. ENVIRONMENT UNDER REVIEW: Environment Under Review contributes to sustainable development and human well-being by empowering partners and stakeholders at national, regional and local communities. The environment under review: Promote evidence-based decision making through integrated knowledge.17

To keep the environment under review, UNEP focuses on bridging the gap between the producers and users of environmental information, better linking science to policy. To do so, the organization focuses on three areas: Assessment – Facilitating global, regional and national policy-making from environmental information made available on open platforms. Early warning – Enabling better policy planning that incorporates information on emerging environmental issues. Information management – Enhancing the capacity of countries to generate, access, analyze, use and communicate environmental information and knowledge.

17. UNEP 2015 Annual Report. UNEP (2016)

  1. HARMFUL SUBSTANCES: Many materials or substances used or created at factories, work place and homes could harm your health. These substances could be dusts, gases or fumes that you breathe in, or liquids, gels or powders that come into contact with your eyes or skin. There could also be harmful micro-organisms present that can cause infection, an allergic reaction or are toxic. Harmful substances can be present in anything from paints and cleaners to flour dust, solder fume, blood or waste. Ill health caused by these substances used at work is preventable. Many substances can harm health but, used properly, they almost never do.

Some substances can cause asthma or other diseases, including cancer. Many can damage the skin, and some can cause serious long-term damage to the lungs. The effect can be immediate, such as dizziness or stinging eyes, or can take many years to develop, such as lung disease. Many of the long-term or chronic effects cannot be cured once they develop.

The law requires you to adequately control exposure to materials in the workplace that cause ill health. This is the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) and means:

  1. identifying which harmful substances may be present in the workplace.
  2. deciding how workers might be exposed to them and be harmed
  3. looking at what measures you have in place to prevent this harm and deciding whether you are doing enough
  4. providing information, instruction and training
  5. in appropriate cases, providing health surveillance
  1. RESOURCE EFFICIENCY: Resource efficiencyis the maximizing of the supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or organization in order to function effectively, with minimum wasted (natural) resource expenses. It means using the Earth’s limited resources in a sustainable manner while minimizing environmental impact.18

A 2014 report by The Carbon Trust suggested that resource challenges are intensifying rapidly – for example, there could be a 40% gap between available water supplies and water needs by 2030, and some critical materials could be in short supply as soon as 2016. These challenges could lead to disruptions to supply, growing regulatory requirements, volatile fluctuation of prices, and may ultimately threaten the viability of existing business models.19 The opportunities in a resource constrained world and how business is rising to the challenge”.


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, or the 2012 Minamata Convention, a treaty to limit toxic mercury.20

UNEP has sponsored the development of solar loan programs, 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 program sponsored by UN Environment helped 100,000 people finance solar power systems in India.21 The solar programme has led to similar projects in other parts of the developing world like Tunisia, Morocco, Indonesia and Mexico.

UNEP sponsors the Marshlands project in the Middle East.22 The UN Environment alerted the international community to the destruction of the Marshlands when it released satellite images showing that 90 percent of the Marshlands had already been lost. The UN Environment “support for Environmental Management of the Iraqi Marshland” commenced in August 2004, in order to manage the Marshland area in an environmentally sound manner.23

In order to ensure full participation of global communities, UN Environment works in an inclusive fashion that brings on board different societal cohorts. UN Environment has a programme for young people known as Tunza.

18. Lorentzen, J. (ed) 2008. Resource intensity, knowledge and development: insights from Africa and South America.HSRC Press, South Africa. ISBN978-07969-2213-7.
19. The Carbon Trust. February 2014. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
20. Alister Doyle (February 17, 2013), Reformed U.N. formula for making planet greener to get first test Reuters.
21. Solar loan program Success in India
22. 2001
23. UN Environment Marshland project in Middle East ArchivedOctober 6, 2007, at the  Wayback Machine.

Within this program are other projects like the AEO for Youth. AEO-for-Youth Archived December 23, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.

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.

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.  The International Cyanide Management Code, a program of best practice for the chemical’s use at gold mining operations, was developed under UN Environment’s aegis.

One of UNEP’s most widely recognized activities is Earthwatch, an international monitoring system designed to facilitate the exchange of environmental information among governments. Participation in this enterprise enables members to assess significant environmental risks and to act accordingly. UNEP played a major role in initiating negotiations on reducing ozone-depleting chemicals.

UNEP provides the technical assistance for a variety of international conventions, including the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer (1987), the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (1989), and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (1992).

As the secretariat for these conventions, UNEP services the conferences, implements the decisions, monitors implementation, and provides data and information.

Together with the Food and Agriculture Organization, UNEP helps to implement the Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (1998). UNEP also coordinates the work on UN agencies with respect to desertification and the regional seas (with special attention to the Mediterranean Sea).


United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) being an International organization established to guide and coordinate environmental activities within the United Nations (UN) system has actually lived to its name but there is actually room for more in the face of looming environmental challenge the world is faced with. UNEP is look upon to guidance UN organizations, and, through its scientific advisory groups, encourages the international scientific community to participate in formulating policy for many of the UN’s environmental projects.

Mostly the organization is expected to encourage participation by the private sector to promote the sustainable use of the world’s natural resources.

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