UNEP's Coordination Mandate

In accordance with the recommendations of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in June 1972, the General Assembly, in resolution 2997 (XXVII) of 15 December 1972, established UNEP, mandating its Governing Council, to "promote international cooperation in the field of the environment and to recommend, as appropriate, policies to this end, and to provide general policy guidance for the direction and coordination of environmental programmes within the UN system". The Assembly further decided that the Executive Director of UNEP would be entrusted with, inter alia, the responsibility to “coordinate, under the guidance of the Governing Council, environmental programmes within the UN system, to keep their implementation under review and to assess their effectiveness, and to advise, as appropriate and under the guidance of the Governing Council, intergovernmental bodies of the UN system on the formulation and implementation of environmental programmes”.

In resolution 2997 (XXVII), the General Assembly also established the Environment Coordinating Board (ECB), initially under the auspices and within the framework of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC). ECB was made up of the Executive Heads of the UN agencies and was chaired by UNEP's Executive Director. Its principal mandate was to ensure cooperation and coordination among all bodies concerned in the implementation of environmental programmes and to report annually to UNEP's Governing Council. ECB was supplemented by the mechanism of environmental focal points within each agency. In 1978, when the ACC assumed the functions and responsibilities of the ECB (General Assembly resolution 32/197 VII), each agency appointed a Designated Official on Environmental Matters (DOEM), to work with and advise UNEP's Executive Director.

United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)

UNEP played a pivotal role in coordinating the UN system's preparations for UNCED, held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. The DOEM regularly reviewed the collective environmental work of UN bodies and agencies in preparation for UNCED and were involved in discussions on post-UNCED institutional arrangements. UNCED in adopting Agenda 21 (in chapter 38, paragraph 21), reaffirmed UNEP's coordinating role, stating that, "in the follow-up to the Conference, there will be a need for an enhanced role for UNEP and its Governing Council. The Governing Council should, within its mandate, continue to play its role with regard to policy guidance and coordination in the field of the environment, taking into account the development perspective". Agenda 21 further stipulated that UNEP should concentrate, inter alia, on "promoting international cooperation in the field of environment and recommending, as appropriate, policies to this end".

Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development (IACSD)

In Agenda 21 (chapter 38, paragraph 17) the ACC was called on to "consider establishing a special task force, subcommittee or sustainable development board, taking into account the experience of DOEM". In response, the ACC, at its 1992 Spring session, decided to establish an ACC Task Force at the level of Executive Heads of FAO, UNESCO, WHO, the World Bank, WMO, UNDP and UNEP, with UNCED as an ex officio member, to consider UNCED follow-up issues. The ACC adopted the report of the Task Force at its 1992 Autumn session and decided to establish the Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development (IACSD) to identify major policy issues relating to the follow-up of UNCED and advise ACC on ways and means of addressing them so as to ensure effective cooperation and coordination of the UN system in the implementation of Agenda 21. IACSD, which reported directly to the ACC, was open to all ACC members and, as observers, related organizations such as the World Tourism Organization, and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

To effectively implement the functions of IACSD, a system of task managers was established for thematic areas. UNEP served as task manager for atmosphere, toxic chemicals, hazardous wastes, desertification and drought, and biodiversity. As such, UNEP took the lead in preparing reports to the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) on these issues. UNEP also contributed to reports for which other UN partners and/or inter-agency bodies serve as task managers, but where UNEP was also playing a significant role, inter alia, oceans and seas, freshwater, land-management, forests, trade, and biotechnology. UNEP contributed extensively to the reports prepared on Agenda 21’s cross-sectoral chapters, such as, consumption and production patterns, human settlements, integrated decision-making, health, major groups, finance, technology, science, education and awareness, capacity-building, institutional arrangements, international legal instruments, information for decision-making, and small island developing states (SIDS). UNEP also contributed to reports, information documents and initiatives for the CSD’s consideration of major groups or economic sectors, for example, industry, tourism, agriculture, and transport and energy. Reports to CSD were prepared through processes of consultation and information exchange between UN agencies, international organizations, interested government agencies and a range of other institutions and individuals. IACSD ceased to exist after the review of ACC in October 2001 established the UN System Chief Executives Board (CEB) for Coordination - formerly the ACC – and itsHigh Level Committee on Programmes (HLCP).

Five-Year Review of UNCED

The 19th special session of the General Assembly for the overall review and appraisal of the implementation of Agenda 21, held in June 1997 in New York, adopted the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21, which reaffirmed (in paragraph 123) that “the role of UNEP, as the principal UN body in the field of the environment, should be further enhanced. Taking into account its catalytic role, and in conformity with Agenda 21 and the Nairobi Declaration on the Role and Mandate of UNEP, adopted on 7 February 1997, UNEP is to be the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the UN system, and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment".


The Inter-Agency Environment Management Group (IAEG)

In 1995, UNEP established the IAEG, which evolved from the ECB and its successor the DOEM. IAEG was conceived as a mechanism to provide UNEP with an effective and strong coordinating role within the UN system on environmental matters. IAEG had two formal meetings. UNEP's Governing Council in its decision 19/9A, requested the Executive Director to report to its twentieth session on progress made in the work of IAEG, including the further refinement and focusing of its role and functioning, while taking into account recommendations of the General Assembly at its special session for the purpose of an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of Agenda 21. In its decision 20/13, the Governing Council, noting both the report of the Executive Director on developments related to IAEG, and that the Secretary-General proposed to establish the Environmental Management Group (EMG), after consulting with the members of ACC, invited the Executive Director, in light of the forthcoming decision of the Secretary-General to establish EMG, to consider the need for IAEG and to report thereon to its twenty-first session.

United Nations Reform: Report of the Secretary-General on Environment and Human Settlements

The Secretary-General, pursuant to Action 12 on 'environment, habitat and sustainable development', as contained in his report entitled 'Renewing the United Nations: a programme for reform' (A/51/950) submitted to the 52nd session of the General Assembly, established a Task Force on Environment and Human Settlements to prepare proposals on reforming and strengthening the UN activities in the fields of environment and human settlements, in order to assist him in making recommendations to the General Assembly at its 53rd session, including recommendations on coordination. The Task Force, chaired by UNEP's Executive Director, was requested to review existing structures and arrangements through which environmental activities are carried out within the UN system, and in this respect to focus on the distinctive functions of policy, development of norms and standards, programme development and implementation and financing, as well as relationships amongst these functions. The Task Force was asked to evaluate the efficacy of existing structures and arrangements and make recommendations for changes and improvements to optimise the UN's environment and human settlements work. The report of the Task Force was presented to the Secretary-General on 15 June 1998. The Secretary-General, having considered the recommendations contained therein, subsequently issued his report to the General Assembly on Environment and Human Settlements (A/53/463).

The Task Force, in its review of existing UN structures and arrangements in the field of the environment and human settlements revealed that current activities are characterised by substantial overlaps, unrecognised linkages and gaps. Thus, the Task Force concluded that what is needed is "a problem solving, results-oriented approach that enables the UN bodies and their partners to share information about their respective plans and activities; to inform and consult one another about proposed new initiatives; to contribute to a planning framework that permits the plans and activities of each participant to be reviewed within the framework of the whole range of activities being carried out by all participants, and to consult with each other with a view to developing an agreed set of priorities and on measures through which each participating organisation can best contribute to those priorities and achieve a more rational and cost-effective use in their respective capacities and resources".

Accordingly, the Task Force recommended, "that in order to meet these needs with respect to inter-agency linkages in the field of environment and human settlements, the Secretary-General should establish an Environmental Management Group" (EMG). As such the Task Force recommended that EMG should "replace the existing IAEG, which should be abolished".

In his report, the Secretary-General, under section III on 'Recommendations for action at the Secretariat level’ put forward the Task Force recommendation for improved inter-agency policy coherence and collaboration through the establishment of an EMG. The Secretary-General stated that EMG would adopt a problem solving, results-oriented approach that would enable UN bodies and their partners to share information, consult on proposed new initiatives and contribute to a planning framework and develop agreed priorities and their respective roles in the implementation of those priorities in order to achieve a more rational and cost-effective use of their resources. EMG would also provide a forum and a mechanism to enhance complementarity between the analytical and normative activities of UNEP with the operational role of UNDP. As such, EMG would follow the "issue management" approach outlined by the Secretary-General in his reform report. The reports of the EMG could be made available to relevant intergovernmental bodies to enhance intergovernmental policy coherence.

The recommendation of the Task Force, which the Secretary-General puts forward in his report and which were annexed to A/53/463, contained a number of proposals on the role and functioning of EMG. It was recommended that the Executive Director of UNEP chairs EMG, and that it be supported by a secretariat that would draw on the existing substantive capacity of UNEP and Habitat, and that the chair reports to the Secretary-General. EMG would include as core members the main UN entities concerned with environment and human settlements. Particular meetings would involve additional UN entities, financial institutions, and organisations outside the UN that have experience and expertise relevant to the issues on the agenda, as observers where appropriate. EMG would be concerned with environment and human settlements issues in the context of the linkages between environment and development as defined at UNCED and subsequently elaborated.

It was proposed that the most important goal of the EMG should be to achieve effective co-ordination and joint action in key areas of the environment and human settlements concern; assist intergovernmental bodies in the area of environment and human settlements, in particular UNEP Governing Council and the Commission on Human Settlements, in preparation of coordinated inputs to intergovernmental fora, notably the CSD. It was recommended that the group report on an informational basis to the ACC, and bring an environmental perspective into the work of IACSD. EMG should establish time-bound task forces or working groups covering clusters of issues in which representatives of the main institutions involved in a particular issue can work together quickly to solve important problems. Furthermore, EMG should include convention secretariats among its participants when needed and should act to ensure that there are appropriate linkages among activities that occur under conventions and relevant activities elsewhere in the international system.


On the inter-governmental level, the recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s report were considered by UNEP's Governing Council at its 20th session, the Commission on Human Settlements at its 17th session, and the General Assembly at its 53rd session. UNEP's Governing Council adopted decision 20/17 on 5 February 1999 entitled, 'Views of the Governing Council on the report of the Secretary-General on Environment and Human Settlements'. The Governing Council, inter alia, expressed its support for the proposal of the Secretary-General regarding the establishment of an EMG for the coordination of the environmental and human settlements activities of the UN system, and encouraged the Secretary-General to undertake consultations with the members of the ACC to develop its scope, appropriate criteria for membership and working methods in a flexible and cost-effective manner for its expeditious establishment. The Commission on Human Settlements, in its resolution 17/6 of 14 May 1999, similarly supported the establishment of EMG.

The General Assembly, having debated the recommendations at its regular 53rd session, resumed its consideration of the report in open-ended informal consultations, and approved by consensus a draft resolution on 28 June 1999. Subsequently, the resolution, submitted by the President of the General Assembly, was formally adopted on 28 July 1999 (A/RES/53/242). In the resolution, the Assembly, inter alia, expresses support for the establishment of EMG, and requested the Secretary-General to develop, in consultation with the Member States and the ACC, the mandate, terms of reference, appropriate criteria for membership and flexible, cost-effective working methods, and submit them the Assembly at its 54th session for consideration.

On the inter-agency level, IACSD at its 13th session noted the decision 20/17 of the Governing Council and the Task Force's recommendation for the establishment of EMG, as contained in the Secretary-General's report. IACSD agreed that EMG, if properly designed, can offer an innovative "problem solving" mechanism that has a potential for contributing added value to existing inter-agency mechanisms, and made a number of recommendations with regard to its establishment, including its terms of reference, criteria for membership and possible methods of work (ACC/1999/1).

IACSD’s recommendations were subsequently considered by the Organisational Committee of the ACC (OC/ACC) (ACC/1999/2) and the ACC. ACC (ACC/1999/4) noted IACSD's recommendations and agreed that further consultations be conducted by the Executive Director with ACC members regarding EMG's terms of reference, criteria for membership and methods of work, fully taking into account the views of the IACSD. In this connection, particular reference was made in ACC to the recommendations of IACSD that the EMG should not duplicate existing mechanisms, particularly IACSD; it should not be a standing body but demand-driven, and its work should be brought to the attention of the Secretary-General and/or ACC through IACSD.

IACSD at its 14th session expressed strong interest in working with UNEP in designing specific modalities for the EMG, and underscored the necessity of the UN system agreeing on a common view on EMG. In order to expedite inter-agency consultations aimed at arriving at such a common view.

The terms of reference for EMG were endorsed by IACSD at its 15th session (ACC/2000/1), and subsequently by the ACC at its first Regular Session of 2000 (ACC/2000/4).

International Environmental Governance

Against the backdrop of the preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the UNEP Governing Council at its twenty-first session in February 2001 adopted decision 21/21 on international environmental governance, which established an Open-ended Intergovernmental Group of Ministers or Their Representatives (IGM) to undertake a comprehensive policy-oriented assessment of existing institutional weaknesses as well as future needs and options for strengthened international environmental governance. The IGM was requested to present a report containing analysis and options to the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in February 2002, which would provide the outcome of its discussions to the preparatory body for the World Summit on Sustainable Development as a contribution to the Summit.

Among the main issues addressed by the IGM was improved coherence in international environmental policy-making (the role and structure of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum), improved coordination among and effectiveness of multilateral environmental agreements, capacity-building, technology transfer and country-level coordination for the environment pillar of sustainable development, and enhanced coordination across the United Nations system - specifically the role of the EMG.

As reflected in the report of the IGM, adopted by the Governing Council at its seventh special session in February 2002, the IGM discussed the EMG in terms of its role as an instrument to enhance policy coordination across the environmental activities of the United Nations system, its potential for bringing the environment into the mainstream of relevant activities of the United Nations system, and its relationship with intergovernmental processes (the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum, the Commission on Sustainable Development, and other forums in the United Nations system).

The report of the IGM states that, “taking advantage of its high-level and cross-cutting environmental perspective, and its coordination role on environmental matters in the United Nations system, the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum could engage in periodic stock taking and, inter alia, review synergies and linkages undertaken between multilateral environmental agreements, as well as review reports of the Environment Management Group and progress in inter-agency collaboration”, and, “For the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum to effectively play its policy role, it requires an instrument at the inter-agency level to enhance policy coordination across the environmental activities of the United Nations system. The Environment Management Group is such an instrument and should be charged with reporting annually to the Forum, taking into account the provisions of General Assembly resolution 54/217, as well as on specific issues arising from the work of the United Nations system in the environmental area on which the Forum could make recommendations on the work of the Environment Management Group”.

Updated information on the international environmental governance process can be found on UNEP Heaquarters' web-site.

World Summit on Sustainable Development

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) met from 26 August – 4 September 2002, in Johannesburg, South Africa. The WSSD’s goal, according to UN General Assembly resolution 55/199, was to hold a ten-year review of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) at the Summit level to reinvigorate global commitment to sustainable development.

WSSD also negotiated and adopted two main documents: the Plan of Implementation and theJohannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development. The Plan of Implementation’s section on the ‘Institutional framework for sustainable development: Role of international institutions’, stresses the need for international institutions both within and outside the United Nations system, including international financial institutions, World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), to enhance, within their mandates, their cooperative efforts to promote effective and collective support to the implementation of Agenda 21 at all levels; and enhance the effectiveness and coordination of international institutions to implement Agenda 21, the outcomes of WSSD, relevant sustainable development aspects of the Millennium Declaration, the Monterrey Consensus and the outcomes of the fourth WTO ministerial meeting, held in Doha in November 2001.

The Plan of Implementation goes on to request the Secretary-General, utilizing the CEB, including through informal collaborative efforts, to further promote system-wide inter-agency cooperation and coordination on sustainable development, to take appropriate measures to facilitate exchange of information, and to continue to keep the Economic and Social Council and the Commission informed of actions being taken to implement Agenda 21.

It called on strengthened cooperation among UNEP and other United Nations bodies and specialized agencies, the Bretton Woods institutions and WTO, within their mandates. It further specified that UNEP, UN-Habitat, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), within their mandates, should strengthen their contribution to sustainable development programmes and the implementation of Agenda 21 at all levels, particularly in the area of promoting capacity-building.

The Plan of Implementation also stressed that the strengthening of the international institutional framework for sustainable development is an evolutionary process. It is necessary to keep under review relevant arrangements; identify gaps; eliminate duplication of functions; and continue to strive for greater integration, efficiency and coordination of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development aiming at the implementation of Agenda 21.

The Plan of Implementation also called on the international community to fully implement the outcomes of decision I on international environmental governance adopted by the UNEP Governing Council at its seventh special session.