The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was established in 1972 by the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden, through the Stockholm Action Plan. This conference was in response to the growing pressure from Member States and international environmental groups for the United Nations (UN) to take action on environmental issues, despite intense international focus at the time on the Cold War. The UNEP was originally tasked to advocate, educate, and facilitate environmental programs alongside development, such as the reduction of air and water pollution. However, with shifting policies and priorities such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the UNEP’s mandate to promote and lead programs on environmental issues has grown to encompass six areas of concern: climate change, disasters and conflicts, environmental governance, ecosystem management, harmful substances and hazardous waste, and resource efficiency. Of these, climate change has been on the UNEP’s agenda since 1979 when the First World Climate Conference was held.
The UNEP was a leader in the formation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 and adoption of subsequent documents, including the Kyoto Protocol. Additionally, the UNEP works cooperatively with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and the United Nations Development Programme on the UN collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (UN REDD), which launched in 2008. UN General Assembly (GA) Resolution 2997 established the UNEP’s Governing Council, which is headed by an Executive Director. However, under GA Resolution 67/213, the 54 -Member State committee is currently undergoing a change in governance structure to strengthen the UNEP and to meet ever-growing international environmental challenges. In 2013, the Governing Council will begin its transition into the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), which will meet biannually, culminate with high-level meetings, and have universal membership as declared in GA Resolution 67/251.
The Governing Council held its final meeting in February 2013, in which the guidelines for the formation of the Secretariat of Governing Bodies (SGB) were established. The SGB, when it takes over in 2014, will support the governing bodies of the UNEA, the Committee of Permanent Representatives, and the Scientific Advisory Groups, which will remain unchanged during the transition. This new system will allow for efficient communication between governments of Member States and the six divisions of the UNEP, including the Scientific Advisory Groups. It will also handle communications from Permanent Missions and Ministries of the UNEP. The current Executive Director, Achim Steiner, Deputy Executive Director, Amina Mohamed, and the Governing Council are to maintain their positions to oversee the transition until 2014. This organizational transition and strengthening reflects the growing importance of the role of the UNEP in confronting the environmental issues that impact us all. In 2012, the UNEP addressed several ongoing projects and initiatives, reflective of the six areas under the purview of the UNEP. Some notable progress reports contained within the 2012 annual report include: CITES: At the Intersection of Trade, Environment and Development; the Year of Sustainable Energy for All (SEFA); and Cleaning Up to Help the Climate. CITES discusses the 2013 outreach initiative between the UNEP and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), specifically concerning the illicit trade of animal parts, such as elephant tusks and rhino horns, and strengthening initiatives to protect endangered wildlife. SEFA highlights the UNEP’s involvement throughout 2012. Additionally, the UNEP reported on two sustainable energy initiatives taking part in Africa: the African Rift Geothermal Development Facility and the Cogeneration for Africa project. Lastly, Cleaning Up to Help the Climate saw the formation of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, which was developed by the UNEP and six other Member States’ governments. The CCAC’s focus will be to work with the UNEP’s Atmospheric Brown Cloud Programme to find efficient methods of eliminating black carbon emissions. In addition to the progress reports, the UNEP recently announced its leadership role as the Secretariat of the 10 Year Framework of Programmes for Sustainable Consumption and Production, which follows the guidelines of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
The 10 Year Framework of Programmes for Sustainable Consumption and Production was created to change the patterns of production and consumption of goods that are detrimental to sustainable development and to support regional and national efforts to promote this change, such as the reduction of pollution through increased recycling. As the Secretariat, the UNEP will promote initiatives that endeavor to strike a balance between the challenges of economic development and continued efforts to protect the needs of ecosystems. Furthermore, the UNEP will oversee the Trust Fund to Support Sustainable Consumption and Production. The UNEP will begin taking on this leadership role beginning in 2014 after the UNEA is established and functioning. At the present time, and in the immediate future, the role of the UNEP remains crucial as it continues to bridge gaps between UN agencies and Member States in addressing climate change and climate change mitigation, sustainable development, ecosystem management, and several other environmental issues.
1. Green Cities and Other Innovative Solutions to Air Pollution
2. Protecting Marine Life from Pollution and Hunting