From its inception in 1972, UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme, has been at heart of the global environmental movement. Without it, the fight to bequeath a healthy planet to subsequent generations would be immeasurably damaged.
For four decades, UNEP has spearheaded international efforts to identify emerging environmental issues, has clarified the scientific underpinnings of environmental challenges, and has worked with governments and partners to develop laws and other policy responses to these challenges.
Successes include facilitating the negotiations and launching of Multilateral Environmental Agreements, addressing problems of land and sea degradation, chemical contamination, biodiversity loss, and climate change at global and regional levels.
As a result most countries now have framework environmental legislation, regulations and standards, and public awareness of environmental issues is strong around the world. However, much less has been accomplished towards realizing necessary action on the ground. This is in part due to the lack of capacity within UNEP to stimulate such action. As the environmental governance framework has grown, so has the realization of the growing gap that limits effective implementation. The Future We Want recognized this implementation gap and the need for all stakeholders to work together to address it.
In particular, paragraph 88 stated that while UNEP continued to perform its scientific and agenda-setting roles for the environment, it was also critical to strengthen its ability to assist countries which require capacity building, technology transfer and implementation of their environmental policies.
Catalysing and supporting change on the ground requires a more widespread effort Environmental assessments that bring scientific information to policy-makers must be tailored, and work must be undertaken with an entirely new range of partners. Such work requires better data collection, monitoring and capacity building for countries to keep under review their own environment.
The need for UNEP to operate more effectively within the UN system and at the regional level to catalyse and support greater action at the country level has been recognized for some time and was certainly the motivation for the 2005 adoption of UNEP Governing Council decision 23/1/I on the Bali Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity Building. The Rio +20 outcome document called in paragraph 278 “for the continued and focused implementation of the Bali Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity-building, adopted by the United Nations Environment Programme.” But such focused implementation depends, among others, on capacity and resources. Member States, in the Rio+20 outcome, at previous sessions of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), and in General Assembly resolutions, have acknowledged the disparity between expectations of UNEP, as the United Nation’s global environmental authority, and the current capacity of UNEP to actually deliver on those expectations.
A strengthened and upgraded UNEP would enable it to enhance its work in setting the global environmental agenda, boost its regional engagement and facilitate coherence and cooperation in the UN system to better respond to UN Member States, particularly through expanded partnerships with governments, civil society and the private sector. The vision of UNEP expressed at the Rio+20 conference is of an organization that catalyzes impact through a multiplier effect, providing authoritative, science-based advice, facilitating synergies, without duplicating the efforts of others, using existing coordination mechanisms at the country level. To realize this vision, UNEP must strengthen its regional base so it can have a better outreach to governments and other partners and stakeholders. UNEP must also enhance its capacity to fulfill its mandate for coordination within the United Nations system and reach out beyond. UNEP’s work globally and locally.
Today, UNEP is leading efforts to promote the inclusive Green Economy.
UNEP sees a low carbon, resource efficient inclusive Green Economy as not only relevant to more developed economies but as a key catalyst for growth and poverty eradication in developing ones too, where in some cases close to 90 per cent of the GDP of the poor is linked to nature or natural capital such as forests and freshwaters.
Currently, the world spends between one and two per cent of global GDP on a range of subsidies that often perpetuate unsustainable resource use in areas such as fossil fuels, agriculture, including pesticide subsidies, water and fisheries.
Many of these are contributing to environmental damage and inefficiencies in the global economy, and phasing them down or phasing them out would generate multiple benefits while freeing up resources to finance a Green Economy transition.
UNEP defines a Green Economy as "one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities".
A big part of that transition involves policies and investments that decouple growth from the current intensive consumption of materials and energy use. UNEP is central to the process of helping governments adopt policies to reverse that trend.