UNEP derives its mandate from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 2997 of 1972, which led to the establishment of the organization. The resolution states in part that UNEP should keep the global environment under review. The UN Conference on the Human Environment whose recommendations led to Resolution 2997 highlighted the importance of environmental assessment and reporting (see box below).
Box 1: Decision on environmental assessment at the UN Conference on Human Environment, Stockholm, 1972
One of the early decisions of the international community on environmental assessment and reporting highlighted the following:
- To facilitate the development of social and cultural indicators for the environment, in order to establish a common methodology for assessing environmental developments and preparing reports on the subjects.
- To prepare, on the basis of (the) national reports on the state of, and outlook for, the environment, periodic reports on regional or sub-regional situations and on the international situation in this matter.
Source: UNEP 1981
UNEP’s Division of Early Warning and Assessment
The Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA) is one of eight UNEP sub-programmes (divisions) responsible for implementing Resolution 2997. The DEWA mission is to:
“Provide the world community with improved access to meaningful environmental data and information, and to help increase the capacity of governments to use environmental information for decision making and action planning for sustainable human development.”
DEWA, in collaboration with other UNEP programmes, and with other partners around the world, implements the UNGA resolution by, among other activities, coordinating GEO, the UNEP flagship assessment reporting process. The first GEO assessment report was initiated in 1995 by UNEP Governing Council in its decision 18/27, which requested UNEP’s Executive Director to prepare a new, comprehensive report on the present and future state of the world environment, including possible response measures. Following the establishment of the GEO process and production of the first GEO report, the Governing Council renewed the mandate for GEO in 1997, 1999 and 2003 and 2005.1 The Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC/GMEF) decisions in 2003 and 2005 facilitated the preparation of GEO-4.
The Bali Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity Building
In 2005, UNEP’s Governing Council adopted the Bali Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity Building2, which identifies priority areas, including:
- preparation, integration and implementation of environmental aspects of national sustainable development plans;
- support to national and regional institutions in data collection, analysis and monitoring of environmental trends; and
- development of national research, monitoring and assessment capacity, including training in assessment and early warning.
The objectives of the plan include strengthening the capacity of governments of developing countries as well as of countries with economies in transition, at all levels to:
- comply with international agreements and implement their obligations at the national level;
- achieve their environmental goals, targets and objectives, as well as environment-related internationally agreed-upon development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration, the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the outcomes of other major United Nations conferences and international agreements,; and
- provide a framework for capacity building to ensure the effective participation of developing countries as well as countries with economies in transition in international environmental governance process.
This will help countries to achieve environmental sustainability in their development.
The Bali Strategic Plan provides a mandate for UNEP to be involved in capacity building related to IEA at the regional and national levels. Regional and national IEAs have become common. Many follow the GEO approach, but derive their mandates either from regional or national agreements and laws.
- UNEP has been mandated since its establishment in 1972 to keep the state of the global environment under review. What is your understanding of the role of GEO in implementing this mandate?
- The GEO approach to IEA has constantly evolved since the process started in 1995. In your own analysis, do you think this is an advantage or disadvantage? Please elaborate.
1. See the reports from the UNEP Governing Council: GC19/3; GC20/1; GC22/1/IB; GC23/6
2. Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP/GC.23/6/Add.1