24 October marks United Nations Day, the anniversary of the day in 1945 when the UN Charter entered into force. In the past 77 years, the UN has worked to maintain international peace and security, promote social progress, improve living standards and support human rights. None of these goals can be achieved without tackling the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.
The UN – both through the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and a host of other agencies and conventions – is working to solve the most pressing global environmental challenges facing humanity. Here are five ways the UN is doing that.
Multilateralism is at the centre of the UN’s environmental efforts. Environmental issues – from pollution to drought to emissions – do not respect borders, and so it is vital their solutions are global in nature. UNEP has been supporting the effort to safeguard the environment for 50 years. Most recently, it facilitated a landmark resolution passed in March 2022 at the United Nations Environment Assembly, to forge a binding international agreement to end plastic pollution. In July, the United Nations General Assembly declared that everyone on the planet has a right to a healthy environment, a declaration that should help environmental campaigners challenge ecologically destructive policies and projects. Both of these decisions show what is possible when governments work together.
Science is central to action on the environment. It informs policy and ensures the decisions taken have the most far-reaching effects. As the leading global environmental authority, UNEP administers or provides secretariat functions for 15 Multilateral Environmental Agreements and other entities, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. UNEP also co-founded the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, which provides policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications and potential future risks, as well as puts forward adaptation and mitigation options. IPCC reports are the basis on which countries around the world take climate action. UNEP’s hallmark Emissions Gap Report and Adaptation Gap Report also chart humanity’s progress in countering climate change.
Providing information about the challenges facing the environment is vital for generating public support for change. To foster awareness, UNEP runs a number of campaigns, many pegged to specific dates. These include World Environment Day, the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies and the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. The annual UN Champions of the Earth awards also recognize people and businesses who are helping to tackle the world’s most pressing environmental issues.
It is important that the UN does not shy away from its own environmental commitments, and so every year, it releases its Greening the Blue report. This UNEP-led initiative charts the UN’s transition towards greater sustainability in the management of its facilities and operations. The UN Environment Management Group also works to enhance the UN’s internal environmental and sustainability policies.
The UN works with a host of organizations and coalitions to put the environment front and centre. The Climate and Clean Air Coalition, for example, aims to accelerate rapid reductions in short-lived climate pollutants to protect human health, agriculture and the environment.