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Written By  – Sruthi Sadhasivam


The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was constituted on 5th June 1972, headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya was formed to set the global environmental agenda and promote sustainable development across the globe.

The UNEP works in major areas such as climate change, disasters and conflicts, ecosystem management, environmental governance, chemicals and waste, resource efficiency, and environment under review. It also acts as a form to unite all nations to engage and collectively tackle grave challenges to the environmental welfare. Some of its major campaigns include Beat Pollution, UN75, World Environment Day, Wild for Life etc.


UNEP as a global environmental authority has been successful in multifarious endeavours such as its MESA project, promotion of clean and renewable energy, training of farmers, women and school children in tree planning and propagation, creation of seed beds and management of nurseries in southern India, training of farmers in Central Asia to prevent the deterioration of plant life and many more.

Nonetheless, the organization has its own debacles and flaws that has made the functioning of the body stagnant to some extent. Although, UNEP has introduced several environmental laws and regulations, it has completely failed in overseeing the implementation of those laws by the states. Some of the projects undertaken by the body is left incomplete due to the high costs incurred in the process of its work. One such project was the argo-forestry complex in Yemen where different techniques of plant raising was to be tested in the soil of the region but was dropped abruptly because the experts felt that the project was not cost effective. It is criticized for its approach of non-involvement of locals in its initiatives and projects.

Its essential that the body acquires uninterrupted financial aid from economically rich countries to function in an efficient manner. It is widely felt that the global body’s effort to mitigate climate change and global warming is foundering.

Furthermore, the recently released UNEP 2021 ‘Making Peace with Nature’ report indicates the perilous repercussions of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution that adds up to three self-inflicted planetary emergencies on humans. The findings of the report are appalling.  It is predicted that there are high chances of the Artic becoming ice free this summer, climate change induced wildfires, land degradation and enhances droughts, decline of coral reefs and enormous threat to biodiversity. The report shows that about 400 million tons of heavy metals, toxic and industrial effluents enter the waters annually. Further, the burden of environmental decline falls substantially on the global poor making their lives even worse. Given the UNEP findings, it has not been triumphant in combatting pollution or climate change that is the major reason for environmental catastrophes.

There are a lot of structural limitations to enable a smooth functioning of the UN body. The UNEP budget for instance is not properly planned. While most of the money goes to providing salaries for the staffs, very little is left to allocate for the projects. In addition, the lack of coordination among the UNEP, UN organs, committees and NGOs has resulted in duplication of environmental assessments. Many UN bodies and organizations accuse the agency of encroaching on their duties and intruding into their affairs thereby leading to strained relationship of UNEP with other bodies. Further, it is a small organization and because of which it cannot directly reach out to governments or local NGOs like other big organisations and due to lack of legal backing it cannot allow civil societies to participate as representatives, limiting those who have competence in environmental matters.

Many environmental activists feel that the body has failed to portray itself as a well established forum for environmental debate, discussion and protection like how WTO and WHO is known for its respective areas like trade and health. 

However, UNEP does have a great role in developing environmental policies and practices for the benefit of the international community and thereby cannot be sidelined no matter what.



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