EPA's Role in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), established in 1972, addresses environmental issues at the global and regional level for the United Nations. UNEP’s mission is “to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.”
To accomplish its mission, UNEP:
- assesses environmental conditions and trends at the global, regional and national levels;
- develops international agreements and national environmental instruments; and
- strengthens institutions for wise environmental management.
UNEP is governed by the United Nations Environment Assembly, a council with universal membership that sets the UNEP agenda.
The Third United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 3)
December 2017: Ministers and delegations from over 170 countries gathered at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya to discuss a wide variety of critical environmental issues at the Third United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 3). The conference focused on the theme “Towards a Pollution Free Planet.” EPA played a leadership role in the adoption of important resolutions on:
- Eliminating exposure to lead paint
- Reducing air pollution
- Improving water quality data and monitoring
- Preventing marine litter and microplastics
At the meeting, EPA also addressed other significant topics including biodiversity and wildlife trafficking, soil pollution, environment and health, mercury exposure, and environmental technologies. In addition, EPA co-hosted roundtables with United States civil society and private sector representatives, welcoming the enhanced role of these stakeholders at UNEA 3.
September 2016: EPA and the new UNEP Executive Director Solheim signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at EPA headquarters in Washington, DC. The MOU identifies areas for strategic cooperation. The first EPA-UNEP MOU was signed during the 26th Session of the UNEP Governing Council Meeting/Global Ministerial Environment Forum, in Nairobi, Kenya in 2011.
The Second United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 2)
May 2016: Ministers and delegations from 174 countries gathered at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya to discuss a wide variety of critical environmental issues at the Second United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA2). The conference focused on the theme “Healthy Environments, Healthy People.” EPA played a leadership role as an integral part of the United States interagency team, including contributing to the following topics:
- reducing exposure to harmful chemicals like lead and mercury,
- preventing marine litter and protecting the marine environment, and
- strengthening connections between human health and the environment.
The assembly also adopted a resolution introduced by EPA on the prevention, reduction and reuse of food waste, marking the first time this issue was raised as a significant issue in a multilateral environment ministers meeting.
In the past, UNEP was administered by a 58-member Governing Council, but at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012, “universal membership” was established for UNEP, to include the full 193 member states of the UN. This change also replaced UNEP’s Governing Council with the UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA) of UNEP, composed of the full 193 UN members.
UNEA acts as a parliament of the environment and sets UNEP’s agenda. The first meeting of UNEA (UNEA1) took place in June 2014. UNEA 2 was held in May 2016 and UNEA 3 in December 2017. UNEA 4 is scheduled for March 2019.
UNEP also hosts the secretariats of several programs and conventions, including:
- 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns (10YFP) Exit adopted at the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012
- Bali Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity Building (BSP)Exit
- Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes Exit
- Convention on Biological Diversity Exit
- Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Exit
- Convention of Migratory Species of Wild Animals Exit
- Global Adaptation Network Exit
- Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint Exit
- Global Programme of Action (GPA) for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities Exit
- Minamata Convention on Mercury Exit
- Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and its Multilateral Fund Exit
- Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles Exit
- Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade Exit
- Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants EXIT
- UNEP Regional Seas Programme Exit
UNEP has regional offices for Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, and West Asia. The current Executive Director of UNEP, Erik Solheim, was appointed by the UN General Assembly in May 2016 for a four year term.
EPA @ UNEP
EPA has had a long and successful relationship with UNEP, including numerous substantive partnerships to strengthen global efforts to protect human health and the environment. The 2011 and 2016 MOUs between EPA and UNEP solidified this relationship and have deepened our engagement on a range of issues, including:
Chemicals and Waste
EPA plays a leadership role in the Global Mercury Partnership and strongly supported the Global Mercury Assessment Exitthat influenced the development of the Minamata Convention on mercury. EPA serves as co-chair for the Partnership Advisory Group and leads the Products and Chlor-Alkali Partnership Areas.
EPA plays a leadership role as current chair of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, which is working to have all countries enact laws to eliminate lead in paint by 2020. UNEP and the World Health Organization (WHO) serve as secretariat for the Lead Paint Alliance.
Air Quality and Climate
EPA was instrumental in establishing and continues to play a leadership role in the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles. This partnership has achieved the near universal elimination of lead in gasoline worldwide and is working to eliminate sulfur from fuels. To complement the work on clean fuels, the PCFV has also launched a used vehicles working group including representatives from governments, the auto industry, and related nonprofit organizations. Despite improvements in fuel quality, obsolete and outdated vehicle technologies continue to be transferred to developing markets through the global used vehicle market. While used vehicles provide a more affordable opportunity to increase personal mobility, older vehicles can emit a disproportionate amount of pollutants. By addressing used vehicles, the PCFV aims to promote a cleaner vehicle fleet with lower emissions.
EPA also works with UNEP and other relevant international organizations to promote air quality monitoring, a first step countries and cities can take towards confronting air pollution challenges and minimizing transboundary air pollution. EPA contributes its expertise in air quality monitoring, management and regulation to support UNEP in providing developing countries with technical assistance. This work is part of the air quality mandate agreed to by the United Nations Environment Assembly.
EPA serves on the steering committee for the Global Adaptation Network, for which UNEP is the secretariat. The network’s signature initiative is Sustained Learning Exchanges, which connect local and regional communities with each other and technical experts to identify appropriate adaptation measures.
EPA partners on activities under the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) Exitto address non-CO2 climate forcers that also pose a direct threat to human health, such as black carbon and particulate matter. UNEP serves as the secretariat for the CCAC.
Marine and Water
EPA also works on the UNEP Regional Seas Programme Exit, launched in 1974, which addresses the accelerating degradation of the world’s ocean and coastal areas, by engaging neighboring countries in comprehensive and specific actions to protect their shared marine environment. EPA is the designated United States “Technical Focal Point” for the Land-Based Sources (LBS) Protocol under the Cartagena Convention.
EPA coordinates closely with 27 other countries in the Wider Caribbean Region, Exit working through UNEP's Caribbean Environment Program (CEP), Exit which was launched in 1976. The Cartagena Convention, Exit negotiated in 1983, includes three protocols adopted to address specific pollution or environmental resources:
- Combating Oil Spills Exit
- Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW Protocol) Exit
- Pollution from Land-Based Sources (LBS Protocol) Exit
The work of the CEP today focuses on serving member states and increasing implementation of these environmentally protective protocols, information management and exchange, and environmental education and training. EPA staff provide expert advice on management of land-based sources of pollution to both protect human health and coastal and marine resources.
EPA also participates in UNEP’s Global Partnership on Marine Litter Exit by providing guidance based on EPA’s domestic Trash Free Waters program. In 2016, EPA began a partnership with the UNEP Caribbean Environment Program to expand Trash-Free Waters to include international marine litter prevention initiatives, with Jamaica and Panama as pilot countries.
EPA serves as the US National Focal Point for the 10YFP, coordinating closely with UNEP through its North America regional office.Exit EPA has supported the development of a Global Sustainable Consumption and Production Clearninghouse, a one-stop hub dedicated to knowledge sharing, cooperation and innovation. EPA participates in several other 10YFP activities, including international cooperation on:
- Sustainable Public Procurement: EPA played a key role in launching this UNEP-led initiative at Rio+20 and serves on the Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Committee and several of the program's Working Groups.
- Life Cycle Assessment: As part of the 10YFP Consumer Information Programme, EPA has worked closely with UNEP to provide technical expertise on lifecycle assessment methodologies in use in the U.S.
- Food waste: EPA drafted and played a key role in the adoption of a UNEA-2 resolution on the prevention, reduction and reuse of food waste, and is working with the UN Regional Office for North America to promote the recovery of food waste and food recycling consistent with the United States 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal. Learn more about EPA's International Efforts on Wasted Food Recovery.