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United Nations Environment Programme
The United Nations Environment Programme, usually known as UNEP for short, is the sole United Nations body with a mandate to focus on environmental issues.
Established in 1972, it was made a subsidiary body of the United Nations General Assembly. This was an outcome following the Stockholm Conference. (Resolution 2997 (XXVII) establishing the United Nations Environment Programme.)
Unlike many international organisations under the auspices of the UN, UNEP is a "programme" (program) rather than an organsiation. Nevertheless, it has played an active role across many environmental issues, including the promotion and growth of multilateral environmental agreements, their implementation and providing assistance to the relevant treaty secretariats (see Mandate below).
Until 2012, every three years, 58 member states were elected to the General Council of UNEP by the General Assembly of the UN. The basis for this election was equitable geographical distribution.
In 2012, the membership of the Governing Council was extended to all members of the UN General Assembly.
The leadership of UNEP consists of an Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director. The structure of UNEP can be found here: http://www.unep.org/about/Structure/tabid/129623/Default.aspx (archive); there should be a PDF document regularly updated that shows the actual structure and current position-holders via a link (as at December 2015, this link is called "DOWNLOAD: UNEP Organigram ").
Day-to-day management of UNEP is undertaken by the Secretariat, which is located in Nairobi, Kenya.
The original mandate for UNEP was set out in the following terms of reference:
"To promote international cooperation in the field of the environment and to recommend, as appropriate, policies to this end; to provide general policy guidance for the direction and coordination of environmental programmes within a United Nations System."
This envisaged a role for UNEP as a promoter and facilitator for the development of environmental programmes run within other UN bodies. Initially this was not viewed as a distinct role for the activating of its own environmental programmes.
In 1992, at the Rio Conference (UNCED), it was proposed by some that UNEP be transformed into a specialised agency. However, this was not supported by a majority. Instead, its role was strengthened. Agenda 21, Chapter 29, sets out a role for UNEP in promoting policymaking, monitoring and assessment and to further develop international environmental law and environmental impact assessment (EIA) and auditing. It also called for UNEP to disseminate information and to promote regional and sub-regional cooperation. In chapter 38, UNEP also gained a priority of coordinating or clustering the various environmental treaties and their secretariats.
In 1997, this extended mandate was confirmed at a special session of the General Assembly. A Global Ministerial Forum was established and UNEP was called the "leading global environmental authority" to set the environmental agenda and to promote the environmental dimension of sustainable development. At this point, UNEP was given the responsibility to coordinate the UN environmental treaties and their implementation. Here is the full statement, which now serves as UNEP's mandate:
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the leading global environmental authority 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.
UNEP thus follows these guidelines for its work:
- Assessing global, regional and national environmental conditions and trends
- Developing international and national environmental instruments
- Strengthening institutions for the wise management of the environment.
UNEP's 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."
In the forty plus years since UNEP came into existence, it has grown in influence in relation to international environmental norms, rules and guidance and has a strong role in normative codification, promoting actionable guidance and outcomes based on environmental norms.
UNEP focuses on seven cross-cutting priorities in its work. These are:
- Climate change
- Disasters and conflicts
- Ecosystem management
- Environmental governance
- Chemicals and waste
- Resource efficiency
- Environment under review.
Finding your way around UNEP
Knowing what UNEP does and has to offer by way of resources, tools and information is useful for individuals, communities, NGOs, business, organisations and others. Here are some places to visit for more information:
- UNEP's home page is at: http://www.unep.org/
- UNEP's structure: http://www.unep.org/about/Structure/tabid/129623/Default.aspx (archive)
- UNEP News Centre: http://www.unep.org/newscentre/
- UNEP's priorities: http://www.unep.org/about/Priorities/tabid/129622/Default.aspx
UNEP can be contacted via email, standard mail and phone as outlined here: http://www.unep.org/about/ContactUs/tabid/129618/Default.aspx
Sources and citations
- UNGA Res 2997 (XXVII) 1972