Environment and EcologyGeneral Studies III

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)


The UNEP is an international environmental authority engaged in establishing a global environmental agenda and promoting the efficient implementation of the environmental dimension of the United Nations Sustainable Development Programme.

  • The rising pollution levels of the 1960s and 1970s prompted the international leadership to think about having laws and regulations in place for environmental concerns, along the likes of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the world Health Organisation (WHO), etc.
  • The Conference also resulted in the formation of a management body for these concerns, which was later called the United Nations Environment Programme.
  • Headquartered in Nairobi, the UNEP is headed by an Executive Director.
  • It coordinates the UN’s environmental activities.
  • It assists developing countries in implementing environmentally sound policies and practices.
  • It was founded as a result of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment 1972.
  • It has overall responsibility for environmental problems among United Nations agencies.
  • Addressing climate change or combating desertification, are overseen by other UN organizations, like the UNFCCC 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.
  • 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.
  • It is also a member of the United Nations Development Group.
  • UNEP has registered several successes, such as the 1987 Montreal Protocol, and the 2012 Minamata Convention, a treaty to limit toxic mercury.
  • UNEP has sponsored the development of solar loan programmes.
  • The solar loan programme sponsored by UN Environment helped finance solar power systems in India.

UNEP Objectives

The UNEP’s stated mission is to offer leadership and promote partnership in caring for the environment through informing, inspiring and enabling countries and peoples to enhance their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

The UNEP has a few focus areas, in which they prioritise work. They are:

  1. Climate change
  2. Ecosystem management
  3. Disasters and conflicts
  4. Environmental governance
  5. Resource efficiency
  6. Chemicals and waste
  7. Environment under review

UNEP Functions

The major functions of the UNEP are discussed below:

  • The UNEP engages in developing global conventions on the environment and related issues. It hosts the secretariats of various conventions such as:
  • Minamata Convention
  • Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
  • Basel Convention
  • Stockholm Convention
  • Rotterdam Convention
  • Montreal Protocol
  • Vienna Convention
  • Convention on Migratory Species
  • Tehran Convention
  • Bamako Convention
  • Carpathian Convention
  • Climate & Clean Air Coalition (CCAC)
  • It promotes environmental science and related information.
  • It finances and implements developmental projects related to the environment.
  • It engages with national governments, NGOs, etc. in relation to environmental policy and implementation.
  • The UNEP also formulates treaties and guidelines in the domain of international trade in harmful chemicals, international waterways pollution and transboundary pollution of air.
  • It also awards and honours individuals as well as institutions that do stellar work in this field.

Major Programmes of the UNEP

  • Earth Hour
  • Clean up the World
  • Billion Tree Campaign
  • Seal the Deal
  • Pain for the Planet
  • Awareness and Preparedness for Emergencies at Local Level (APELL)
  • Faith for Earth

United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA)

The UNEP’s governing body is called the United Nations Environment Assembly, which is said to be the world’s highest decision making body on the environment.

  • It meets once in two years to establish priorities for international environmental policies and develop international environmental law.
  • Formed in 2012, it is headed by a Bureau and its President.
  • The Bureau comprises ten environment ministers of various countries who all hold two-year terms, based on geographical rotation.
  • Currently, it has 193 member states (all UN member countries).

Treaties Concluded under the Aegis of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) or UN Environment:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

  • IPCC is a scientific intergovernmental body under the auspices of the United Nations.
  • It was first established in 1988 by two United Nations organizations, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
  • Membership of the IPCC is open to all members of the WMO and UNEP.
  • The IPCC produces reports that support the UNFCCC.
  • IPCC reports cover all relevant information to understand the risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.
  • The IPCC does not carry out its own original research.
  • Thousands of scientists and other experts contribute on a voluntary basis.
  • The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was shared, in two equal parts, between the IPCC and an American Environmentalist.

The aims of the IPCC are to assess scientific information relevant to:

  • Human-induced climate change,
  • The impacts of human-induced climate change,
  • Options for adaptation and mitigation.

IPCC Assessment Reports (AR)

  • In accordance with its mandate, the IPCC prepares at regular intervals comprehensive Assessment Reports of scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of human induced climate change, potential impacts of climate change and options for mitigation and adaptation.

Special Reports

  • Special Reports have been prepared on topics such as aviation, regional impacts of climate change, technology transfer, emissions scenarios, land use, land use change and forestry, carbon dioxide capture and storage and on the relationship between safeguarding the ozone layer and the global climate system.

Conservation of Migratory Species

  • Full name: The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.
  • Convention on Migratory Species or the Bonn Convention or Global Wildlife conference.
  • It is an international treaty, concluded under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Programme.
  • The Convention was signed in 1979 in Bonn, Germany and entered into force in 1983.
  • The CMS is the only global and UN-based intergovernmental organization established exclusively for the conservation and management of terrestrial, aquatic and avian migratory species throughout their range.

Global Environment Facility

  • The Global Environment Facility (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.
  • An independently operating financial organization, the GEF provides grants for projects related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer, and persistent organic pollutants.

The GEF also serves as financial mechanism for the following conventions:

  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
  • UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)
  • Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
  • Minamata Convention on Mercury
  • The GEF, although not linked formally to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (MP), supports the implementation of the Protocol in countries with economies in transition.
The GEF works with18 agencies. Notable ones among them are:
  1. United Nations Development Programme
  2. United Nations Environment
  3. World Bank
  4. Food and Agriculture Organization
  5. Asian Development Bank
  6. International Fund for Agricultural Development
  7. World Wildlife Fund – US
  8. Conservation International
  9. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Areas of work

  • Biodiversity, Climate change, International waters, Land degradation, Sustainable forest management / REDD+ and Ozone depletion

UNEP and India 

India has had a close relationship with the UNEP since the programme’s inception. There are many projects completed, as well as ongoing projects, of the UNEP in India.

  • The UNEP’s presence in India started in 2016 with an office at New Delhi.
  • The nodal agency for India’s interactions with the UNEP is the GOI’s Ministry for Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
  • The Permanent Representative of India to UNEP is India’s High Commissioner for Kenya.
  • India’s annual financial contribution to the UNEP is to the tune of USD 100,000.
  • The UNEP has recognised India’s initiatives in the environment sector. 
  • The UNEP awarded PM Narendra Modi with the ‘Champions of the Earth’ award along with French President Emmanuel Macron in the category ‘policy leadership’.
  • This was in recognition of the, among others, the International Solar Alliance, initiated by India.
  • In 2019, India joined the Climate & Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), whose Secretariat is hosted by the UNEP.
  • India plans to work with CCAC nations on best practices and experiences for the effective implementation of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP).


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