Since it's creation in 1985, AMCEN has played several roles, including:
- Providing continent-wide leadership by promoting awareness and consensus on global and regional environmental matters .
- Developing common positions to guide African representatives in negotiations for legally binding international environmental agreements.
- Promoting African participation in international dialogue on global issues of crucial importance to Africa.
- Reviewing and monitoring environmental programmes at the regional, sub-regional and national levels.
- Building African capacity in the field of environmental management.
- Promoting the ratification by African countries of multilateral and regional environmental agreements relevant to the region.
- Guiding and /or promoting regional and sub-regional environmental initiatives or strategies
- AMCEN has continued to give guidance in key political events related to multilateral environment agreements.
- AMCEN has paid particular attention to the implementation of post 1992 Earth Summit environmental conventions such as the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol.
It is noteworthy that as the host to the AMCEN Secretariat, the UNEP Regional Office for Africa played a major role in the preparation for the African consultative process towards the World Summit and Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002.