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United Nations Environmental Programme

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the result of a new
consciousness for the environment which has started to develop at the end of
the 1960s.In 1968, the United Nations General Assembly considered
environment as a topic for the first time in the history of this organisation.
Four years later, the General Assembly established UNEP at the UN
Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. With the establishment
of UNEP, the United Nations went one step further as many of their member
states. At that time, many states did not have their own environmental
ministry. Today, UNEP functions as the central panel of the United Nations
for questions concerning environmental politics.

UNEP is often called the “environmental conscience” of the UN. One of its
main purposes is to coordinate the activities of the UN organisations in the
field of environmental protection. It works very closely together with other UN
organs, especially the FAO, UNESCO and the WHO. Additionally, it has
connections to over 6000 NGOs, which work in the field of environmental
politics. Furthermore, UNEP should contribute to the process of sustainable
development through appropriate environmental practices. It develops
regional environmental protection programmes and assists developing states
in establishing their own national networks for the protection of the
environment. In order to fulfil these tasks, UNEP analyses trends in the field
of environmental protection; initiates international environmental conventions
which in the long run are supposed to be the basis for the establishment of an
international environmental law; elaborates principles for environmental
protection; and collects and distributes information. UNEP provides a range
of different information services for the exchange of material, e.g. the
International Register of Potentially Toxic Chemicals (IRPTC) and the World
Conservation and Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). With all these activities,
UNEP tackles issues such as the protection of the ozone layer, waste
treatment, soil degradation, deforestation, threats to biodiversity, renewable
energy sources and so on. It hosts conventions such as the Convention on
Biological Diversity and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species (CITES). UNEP supervises approximately 250 projects per year.
Every two years, UNEP publishes a report about its work and the global
situation of the environment. The latest report is called “GEO-3”.

One focus of UNEP is the support of Africa on its way to a sustainable
development. For this purpose, UNEPʼs headquarter is located at Nairobi/
Kenya. Other offices of UNEP are located at Paris, Genf, Osaka, Den Haag,
Washington, New York, Bangkok, Mexico City, Montreal, Manama and Bonn.
Executive-director of UNEP is the former German minister for the
environment Klaus Töpfer. The main decision-making body of UNEP is the
Board of Administration which is being elected by the General Assembly for a
period of four years. It consists of 58 UN member states, 39 of them are
developing countries. The board is holding its meeting every two years.

UNEPʼs administration is being fi nanced through the normal budget of the
UN. But projects are only made possible through voluntary membership fees.
This is one of the major problems of UNEP. Chronic shortage of money
restricts UNEPʼs ability to act and weakens its capability to enforce projects.
The annual budget amounts to approximately § 100 millions. 80 % of this
money comes from developed countries. 20 % of the budget is going to
Africa, Asia, Latin-American, Western Asia, Europe and the Mediterranean.
80 % is invested into global projects.

Even so UNEP can present many achievements, this organisation receives
critics again and again. The main reproach is that it has no competences to
enforce its resolutions and that it is only a paper tiger without teeth. This
reproach is certainly not unsubstantiated, but the major reason for this
situation are the member states themselves. Very often, they are not willing
to take appropriate measures in the field of environmental protection,
constraining the effectiveness of UNEP. A second problem is the uncertain
financial situation. Conscious about these problems, the member states have
tried to strengthen UNEP through more commitment to this organisation. But
the problems in finding international support for the ratification of the Kyoto
Protocol still reveal the difficulties of international cooperation in the field of
environmental protection.

Functional structure of UNEP

DCPI – Division of Communication and Public Information
DEWA – Division of Early Warning and Assessment
DPDL – Division of Policy Development and Law
DEPI – Division of Environmental Policy Implementation
DTIE – Division of Technology, Industry, and Economics
DRC – Division of Regional Cooperation
DEC – Division of Environmental Conventions
DGEF – Division of Global Environment Facility Coordination