Where were you in 1972?

In celebration of UNEP’s 40 years, we are keen to gather photos, videos, reminiscences and stories that mark key events, negotiations and experiences. We’re keen to gather photos, videos and stories that mark key events, negotiations and experiences related to UNEP in the last four decades.

Where were you in 1972? If that’s too far back then tell us where you were in '82, ’92 or 2002 and also where you want the world to be in 2012. 

Join the celebration by sharing your memories, stories, testimonials, photos and videos.

Upload your photos to our Facebook page, post a link to your videos on our wall, and email stories to us at UNEP.40thAnniversary@unep.org



by Victor Ogbuneke, UNEP – SCBD, Administrative Officer

Towards the end of 1998 several months following the end of my official internship, I received a call from the Youth Unit that the planned host of the Second International Children’s Conference on Environment had withdrawn its offer...


by Julia Crause, former UNEP staff member (1999-2007)

I joined UNEP as a young assistant to the Executive Director, Klaus Töpfer, in 1999. After a few months into the job, preparations began for UNEP’s first Global Ministerial Environment Forum which was to take place in Malmö, Sweden...


by George Wainaina, UNON staff member

I was an 18-year old form five student at Kabarnet High School, located in the then remote part of Baringo district of Rift Valley province, eager to learn and enter into the adult life in the emerging Kenyan nation. In February 1972 our Geography teacher, Ruben Chebii (bless his soul), would in his teaching focus our young minds into issues of environment, biodiversity and the food chain etc… and how the human race could make or break what nature has over centuries kept in perfect balance. Then we heard through radio and read in newspapers of that big conference in Nairobi...


by Teddy Gianopulos, long-serving former UNEP staff member

Down memory lane - 40 years in the service of the UN
Before joining UNEP in 1979 – I had worked for a number of UN Agencies in both Kenya and Ethiopia – but the powerful flashback that is permanently in my mind is the day that I graduated from College.   It was the afternoon of Friday, December 5th 1964 - Prize Giving Day – which   instantaneously changed the course of my life.   My plans for going into Medicine and eventually specializing in Pediatrics were put on hold (or so I thought) as I was intrigued and fascinated by the work of the UN – especially that of UNICEF and WHO, who were providing Emergency funds for children and working on  Tuberculosis.   Fate was moving its huge hand and I felt an inner power of spontaneity that was guiding my every move.   In those days, I was a rather shy youngster and certainly not the forthcoming extrovert that I turned into in later years!


by J. Aloisi de Larderel, former Director of UNEP-DTIE

In 1972, I was in the French Ministry of Environment, which had just been created. I was not involved with international affairs at that time, but I remember the internal meetings to discuss the French participation in the Stockholm conference and the support France would bring to the creation of UNEP! It was a wonderful period: everything had to be done to develop environmental policies and there was a great enthusiasm to engage into action! In 1992, I had moved to UNEP as Director of the then called “Industry and Environment 0ffice“. I was in Rio. I addressed the business community at the conference organized under the patronage of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) just before the summit.


by Marion Cheatle, former Deputy Director of the Division of Early Warning and Assessment

Early GEO Anecdotes and Reminiscences
In the beginning we had to think of a name for the new environment outlook report. It was nearly called “WEO” but someone had a better suggestion and it became “GEO”. By replacing the W (World) with G (Global) the acronym itself became intuitive –with ‘geo’ being the ancient Greek word for the Earth. We thought about trying to copyright the name, but with ‘geo’ being such a common prefix that idea was a non-starter. However, we were somewhat alarmed and affronted when another GEO was coined almost 10 years later. As it happens, the Group on Earth Observations has happily thrived in its own right and, as far as I am aware, there hasn’tbeen too much confusion between the GEO's!


by Hiremagalur Gopalan, former UNEP staff member

Being a trained biologist, environment, particularly the conservation of fauna and flora, was my main interest and my main intention of coming to work in Kenya. In 1972, I was a post doctoral fellow in Germany. I followed the Stockholm Conference on TV and the press. Lot of lofty speeches were made, including the famous one by Mrs. Indira Gandhi in which she said that poverty was the main polluter. I came to Kenya in 1974 to join the University of Nairobi. Professor Reuben Olembo was my mentor and senior colleague. Over the years, and more so, after he became full time professional at UNEP, he introduced me to the various activities at UNEP, particularly those related to the long term health and environmental effects of chemical and physical agents. I started as a consultant with the Human Health and Environment Unit from 1982 and continued till 1992 when I joined as a full time professional.


by Tore Brevik, DCPI former Director

From 1988 - 2002, I worked for UNEP under 3 different Executive Directors; (Tolba, Dowdeswell and Toepfer) and also had a lot of contact with Maurice Strong, as the Director for Communications and Public Information. At first, my part of UNEP's organization was called Information and Public Affairs, (IPA), later Communication and Public Information (CPI) and then the Division of Communication and Public Information (DCPI). During this anniversary the key milestones will feature prominently, but it is important to remember the organization's mandate to inform and create public awareness. This work has been about much more than treaties and conferences. UNEP has been in the forefront of international awareness building. It was of course important to build our various projects and activities around the many conferences, meetings and treaties.


by Hussein Abaza, former Chief of the Economics and Trade Branch of UNEP's DTIE

Mostafa Tolba, though was a scientist still recognized the importance of economics as a tool to assess the true cost of development, cost of action needed to protect the environment, as well as cost of inaction. During his last term he gave instructions to develop and launch a UNEP Programme on Economics, which was submitted and approved by the 17th GC held in 1993. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, realized the importance of trade for environment and development. In spite of skeptisim initially,  on the part of some governments on whether UNEP should be involved in this area, UNEP managed to put together a solid programme on the interface between trade and the environment and became a prominent player in this field. Klaus Töpfer recognized the importance of the relationship between environment and development. During his tenure, UNEP became a well recognized lead agency dealing with the interface between trade, environment, and development. Achim Steiner recognized the importance of the need to demonstrate how investing in the environment makes good economic sense and good business,  initiated and supported the launch of the Green Economy Initiative in October 2008. An initiative that has captured world attention and recognition and has been adopted by a number of countries and institutions world wide.

by Honorine Kiplagat, former UNEP staff member

Highlights of my work in UNEP
I started working in UNEP in 1984 and my assignments were on NGO’s: 1985 was the international year of Youth (IYY); my aim was then to promote environmental awareness to the youth. I worked on the first Youth Environmental Agenda which was translated into French, Spanish and Arabic. That followed the establishment of Regional Youth Focal Points, two each per UNEP region. They are volunteers. Their role was to reach out to other youth organisations in their respective regions to embark on programmes/activities for the protection to the environment. A Youth Ambassador was also appointed. A number of workshops, training seminars on youth and environment were held in various regions and at UNEP Headquarters. Success stories were published in “Young Action for the Future”.


by Halifa Drammeh, long-serving former UNEP staff member

Celebrating UNEP's support to and partnership with governments and their intergovernmental institutions – the case of Africa
On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), it gives me great pleasure to convey my congratulations to member states, their intergovernmental authorities, the non-governmental bodies, the respective Executive Directors and Staff of the United Nations Environment Programme and the entire international community for the great efforts in protecting, managing and sustaining the global environment on which the common future of humankind rests...


by Gerard Cunningham, Ireland, 25 years service to UNEP (1987-2012)

Gerry graduated in Production Engineering from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in 1978. He was awarded a Masters degree in Computing from TCD in 1979 and an MBA from United States International University (USIU) in 1991. Prior to Joining UNEP in February 1987, Gerry was a lecturer in the Institute of Technology (ITS), Sligo, Ireland and was a member of the team that established the first undergraduate course in Environmental Science in the Rep. of Ireland. He took a career break in Jan 1987 and never returned to his permanent lecturing post at ITS...



by a current UNEP staff member who wishes to remain anonymous

Back in my very early ways with UNEP, 1990 or there abouts, this was a very different Kenya and very much a backwater of telecommunications. So much so that there were, for the whole of the Gigiri campus, two fax machines - well, three if you count the one that was in Dr Tolba's office, but that got stolen one weekend anyway. Now that I think of it, there were four, the last one being in the office of the Director for whom my boss worked. Anyway, all this meant that, for a normal worker to send a fax, one had to fill out a request form, have it signed by one's superior, attach the document to be sent, and forward the lot to the Cable Operations Unit (who were responsible for keeping UNEP's main lifeline working, the telex machine, before telexes became extinct during the next decade). They might send it that day, or the next day, or on Monday and, of course, the replies came to them as well, and might be delivered to your office the next day, or the one after that, or on Monday. Sending a fax and getting a reply might easily be a week-long exercise.

Anyway, my then boss was sick of all this - wanted email and knew how to get it. Namely, have a young consultant burrow inside the walls, find the phone wire that went to his boss' fax machine and have a modem hot-wired into the circuit. Job done - now he could dial up a friendly email provider in the US and communicate at speeds his colleagues only dreamed of. And the bills for the calls went to his boss. Now, never mind that the young consultant in question had never wired a phone, or a fax machine, or a modem in his or her life - this was the wild west, a young and plucky UNEP with derring-do and a spirit of adventure. Rather a lot of fun, actually.