EPA's Role in the United Nations Economic and Social Council
The U.N. charter established the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1945 as one of the six main bodies of the UN. ECOSOC, based in New York, considers the world’s economic, social, and environmental challenges. The U.S. Mission to the United Nations serves as the representative to ECOSOC and relies on expertise from agencies, including EPA, on specific issues.
ECOSOC is a high level political forum, with an annual meeting discussing issues such as the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development. ECOSOC has also been responsible for convening periodic summits and other high level meetings, including the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) and the 1992 Rio Earth Conference.
As part of U.S. outreach leading up to Rio+20, and in support of ECOSOC’s sustainable development priority, EPA and partners launched a Youth Sustainability Challenge, 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.
Established by Chapter X of the Charter of the United Nationsin 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) 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 (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, 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 Political Forum on Sustainable Development to build upon, and replace, CSD. The U.S. Mission to the UN represents and leads U.S. government engagement in this High Level Political Forum. The forum was instrumental in developing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its associated 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The SDGs were adopted by the UN general assembly in September 2015 and came into force on January 1st 2016. To fund work on the SDGs, a new global framework for financing sustainable development was created under the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. Countries agreed to this agenda in July 2015 at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development. The agenda provides foundational support for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda by aligning financing flows and policies with economic, social and environmental priorities.
EPA @ ECOSOC
EPA has played a role in ECOSOC’s sustainable development activities by advancing knowledge for enhancing sustainability and through substantive programs that contribute to sustainable development outcomes. At the Commission on Sustinable Development (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:
- Waste Management
- 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production, which is implemented by the One Planet Network
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:
- the Youth Sustainability Challenge,
- the U.S.-Brazil Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability,
- the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and
- events on sustainable public procurement and other key initiatives at the Corporate Sustainability Forum.
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 Programme (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 on Sustainable Consumption and Production, a new multi-stakeholder voluntary partnership program, which is implemented by the One Planet Network;
- 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 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) 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 protecting 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:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of International and Tribal Affairs (2660R)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460