UNEP: The United Nations Environment Programme
This week I want to talk about the United Nations Environment Program, which is, by the UN’s own definition, the leading environmental authority in the United Nations System. The UNEP, since 1972, has been using its environmental expertise to promote the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the UN system and serve as an authoritative advocate for the global environment. How exactly it does that, and what goals it strives to achieve is the subject of study of this blog.
What does the UNEP strive for?
The UNEP’s mission is to provide leadership to environmental efforts and encourage partnership by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. It works on delivering transformational change for people and nature by drilling down on the root causes of the three planetary crises of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.
To this end, it directs several action programs, including Climate action, chemicals and pollution action, nature action, science policy, environmental governance, finance and economic transformations and digital transformations.
UNEP’s Areas of Focus
The UNEP has 6 main areas of concentration.
1. CLIMATE CHANGE
UNEP is focusing on facilitating the transition to low-carbon societies, improving the understanding of climate science, facilitating the development of renewable energy and raising public awareness.
2. POST-CONFLICT AND DISASTER MANAGEMENT
UNEP conducts environmental assessments in crisis-affected countries and provides guidance for implementing legislative and institutional frameworks for improved environmental management. It has undertaken missions such as post-conflict environmental assessment in Afghanistan, Côte d’Ivoire, Lebanon, Nigeria and Sudan.
3. ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT
The United Nations Environment Programme facilitates the management and restoration of ecosystems in a manner consistent with sustainable development and promotes the use of ecosystem services, such as the Global Programme of Action (GPA) for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities.
4. ENVIRONMENTAL GOVERNANCE
UNEP supports governments in establishing, implementing and strengthening the necessary processes, institutions, laws, policies and programs to achieve sustainable development at the country, regional and global levels.
5. HARMFUL SUBSTANCES
UNEP strives to minimise the impact of harmful substances and hazardous waste on the environment and human beings. It has launched negotiations for a global agreement on mercury and implements projects on mercury and the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) to this end.
6. RESOURCE EFFICIENCY/SUSTAINABLE CONSUMPTION AND PRODUCTION
UNEP focuses on regional and global efforts to ensure natural resources are produced, processed and consumed in a more environmentally friendly way. The Marrakesh Process is a global strategy to support the elaboration of a 10-year Framework of Programs on sustainable consumption and production.
Private Sector Engagement
Since the private sector is known to drive a lot of environmental problems such as climate change, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, and generation of plastic waste, the UNEP recognises that. As such, the private sector has the power to reverse negative megatrends and enforce positive trends. Examples of this power include voluntarily adapting business operating practices by exploiting opportunities related to sustainable innovations, such as utilizing greener and more efficient technologies and practices.
To facilitate the exercise of this power in a positive way, the UNEP works with private entities that have proven their commitment and ability to take action and reduce their environmental footprint and provide resources or solutions to solve existing and emerging environmental challenges.
What is the UNEP Finance Initiative?
The UNEP finance initiative connects the UN with financial institutions from around the world to shape the sustainable finance agenda, to aid the finance industry to address global environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges. UNEP FI supports global finance sector principles to catalyze integration of sustainability into financial market practice. These include Principles for Responsible Banking, Principles for Sustainable Insurance and Principles for Responsible Investment. These frameworks establish the norms for sustainable finance, providing the basis for standard-setting and helping to ensure private finance fulfils its potential role in contributing to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The Way Forward
The role played by the UNEP has had a tangible impact on environmental legislation around the world, and in July 2022, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution stating that access to a healthy environment is a human right. Through this historic move, it called on states to step up efforts to ensure their people have access to a “clean, healthy and sustainable environment.” There is optimism that this move will give environmental campaigners more ammunition to challenge ecologically destructive policies and projects.
Similar to the impact the 2010 resolution recognising the right to sanitation and water had on countries around the world, which scrambled to build infrastructure in line with this resolution, the 2022 resolution is also expected to trigger environmental action.
The Executive Director of the UNEP, Inger Andersen, said, “This resolution sends a message that nobody can take nature, clean air and water, or a stable climate away from us – at least, not without a fight.”
Commitments and Action-steps
The Emission Gap Report of 2021 by the UNEP has underlined the impact that solid commitment of countries to climate action pledges can have on greenhouse gas emissions. It suggests that staying committed to the Nationally Determined Contributions can take off an additional 7.5% from the expected greenhouse gas emissions of 2030. However, this is only possible when all countries together stay on track to achieve this goal. Further, due to the vagueness of net-zero pledges, this goal faces setbacks.
Clearly defining rules in carbon markets, and ensuring that they are designed to make the transactions reflect actual reductions in emissions, and are supporting them by arrangements to track progress and provide transparency are important steps towards greater structural commitment to the net-zero emissions goal, and businesses in collaboration with governments can make huge leaps and bounds in terms of the implementation of these policies by exhibiting compliance with environmental guidelines and principles.
There is a growing need to adopt a new set of Sustainable Development Goals that aim to “Transform the World”. Change comes with collective effort, mutual understanding and knowledge toward specific goals.
Despite the UN and other international organisations making crucial decisions, the result is far from expected. It made me wonder what it is that we are falling short on. Is it the lack of interest or lack of awareness?
That’s when I had a eureka moment, and it suddenly started to make all sense. Many people don’t know the complicated terms and references that are used when we talk about sustainability. The idea inspired me to create a new series called “The ABCs of Sustainability Development”. I hope that this series of blogs is well received and serves its purpose.