International Cooperation

EPA's Role in the United Nations Economic and Social Council

High-Level Officials at Rio+20
Then Administrator Lisa P. Jackson (2nd from R) joined Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil, OPIC President and CEO, and U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change at Rio+20.

The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) considers the world’s economic, social, and environmental challenges. ECOSOC is composed of subsidiary bodies, including the recently concluded Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). ECOSOC also convenes major international conferences on specific issues, including the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

EPA has supported CSD initiatives and related ECOSOC efforts since the original United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, or the Rio Earth Summit) and continues to engage on the work of the ECOSOC-managed Post-2015 Development Process, which will connect the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with the topic of sustainable development, highlighted at Rio+20.

Visit the official home page of ECOSOC Exit

As part of U.S. outreach leading up to Rio+20, and in support of ECOSOC’s sustainable development priority, EPA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) partnered to launch a Youth Sustainability Challenge, Exit which invited youth and young adults to create short videos on what they are doing to promote sustainability. Georgetown Energy, a student group from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, won the overall award with this video.Exit


Established by Chapter X of the Charter of the United Nations Exitin 1946, ECOSOC considers a wide range of issues, including the world’s environmental challenges and how environment and development challenges interlink. ECOSOC has 54 member Governments which are elected for three-year terms by the General Assembly of the UN based on geographical representation.

As part of the effort to address these challenges, the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) Exit was created following the June 1992 Rio Earth Summit. The UN General Assembly formally established CSD in 1993 to review progress on commitments made at the Earth Summit, and expanded on this work at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2002.

In June 2012, nearly fifty thousand people from all levels of government and almost every sector gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to prepare for and participate in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Exit(often referred to as Rio+20) and related events. Through this Conference – the largest in United Nations history – the global community elevated the conversation on sustainable development and reached a landmark agreement on its two main themes: the green economy and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

As stated by the U.N. Conference Secretariat, the objective of the conference was "to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and address new and emerging challenges.”  The official conference outcome, entitled The Future We Want (PDF), Exit includes a broad recognition of the importance of green economy as a tool for sustainable development, strengthens environmental governance in the United Nations system, and highlights several key issues including oceans, cities, and energy.

The Rio+20 decisions also established a High-Level Panel Exitto build upon, and replace, CSD, with an explicit connection to considering how sustainable development will influence the Post-2015 Development Agenda.


EPA has played a role in ECOSOC’s sustainable development activities for decades, by advancing knowledge for enhancing sustainability and through substantive programs that contribute to sustainable development outcomes. At CSD, EPA took a leading role in negotiating policy options in five key thematic areas, in addition to participating in multi-stakeholder dialogues. At its last meetings, the Commission negotiated policy recommendations in five thematic areas:

Ahead of Rio+20, EPA engaged actively in the United States government preparations for the Conference, in partnership with a range of U.S. agencies, led by the State Department, and the stakeholder community. Besides EPA’s important role in negotiations and advancing multi-stakeholder participation at Rio+20, the Agency hosted a range of side events and promoted several key programs. These included practical examples of how to achieve environmentally beneficial and socially inclusive economic growth, such as:

Some of the major outcomes of Rio+20 that EPA supported to advance the international conversation on sustainable development include:

  • Strengthening of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) by establishing universal membership, making it fully participatory to all interested UN member countries;
  • Establishment of a high-level forum that builds upon and replaces the Commission on Sustainable Development;
  • Adoption of the 10-Year Framework for Sustainable Consumption and Production, a new multi-stakeholder voluntary partnership program;
  • Launch of a set of actions to consider how to integrate environmental and social elements into national measures, going beyond current measures of Gross Domestic Product (GDP);
  • Commitment to facilitate support for access to sustainable, modern energy services Exit for the 1.4 billion people worldwide who are currently without such basic utilities;
  • Reinforcement of the importance of public participation, access to information and judicial and administrative proceedings;
  • Acknowledgement of the fundamental role played by the private sector and civil society in achieving sustainable development.

Rio+20 also led to the establishment of an inclusive, intergovernmental process to set Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Exit to create measurable goals for a sustainable, coordinated, coherent post-2015 development agenda, in cooperation with the Post-2015 process on the MDGs. EPA is engaging in this process with a particular view toward ensuring that human health and the environment are priorities for the future development agenda.


For additional information on EPA's work with the the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), contact:
Hodayah Finman
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of International and Tribal Affairs (2660R)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-6600