The UN Environment Programme explained

The UN Environment Programme explained

27 Aug 2020

The United Nations Environment Programme was formed to provide expertise and foster cooperation between countries to care for the environment and improve the quality of life for present and future generations.

There have been a lot of superhero movies released recently—Avengers, Justice League, Watchmen— featuring organisations formed to fight bad guys and save the world, usually dressed in spandex.

Whilst we're sure the folks at the UN Environment Programme don't wear spandex to work (it's bad for the environment), they do play an important role in helping to save the world from the climate crisis and fight environmental destruction.

We wanted to take a deep dive into the organisation and why we feel more optimistic with them on our side.

Knowledge is power

“What I can say now is that the best tool at our disposal is global unity. With challenges as monumental as those we all face, we will succeed together or we will fail together." - Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UNEP

Surely one of the coolest organisations on Earth, the United Nations (UN) was formed after WW2 as a way for nations to coexist more peacefully and promote social progress and human rights.

UN HQ Switzerland
The UN's HQ, Switzerland

As well as the boots on the ground peacekeeping and humanitarian missions a lot of us know it for, through the Environment Programme, the UN also plays a key role in addressing environmental destruction, fighting the climate crisis, and promoting sustainable growth.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) was formed in 1972. It acts as a crucial communicator between environmental scientists and policymakers, aka governments. In a world where knowledge and cooperation is power, this is like a superweapon on the side of sustainability.

An example of the kind of relationships made possible by UNEP is between Iceland and East African countries Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. The reason? Iceland is a world leader in geothermal energy generation and now, with the help of UNEP, it’s helping other countries leverage its expertise.

Iceland geothermal vents

With UNEP, Iceland is helping East African countries develop geothermal energy solutions

Helping us reach the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

You may have read our previous editorial about the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs).

As a quick recap, these are a shared blueprint of 17 interconnected goals designed with the aim of creating peace and prosperity for both people and the planet. The overall aim is to improve people’s lives whilst still caring for the environment, which we totally get behind!


The UN SDGs are a roadmap for sustainable development

Naturally, UNEP is helping countries work towards these goals by ensuring the integration of environmental policies into national law and helping countries build out the capacity to tackles issues and track progress.

A key area they work in is ocean conservation (Goal 14). Through the #CleanSeas campaign UNEP works with governments, organisations and people around the world to stop plastics entering the ocean.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

So many acronyms! This is the last one, we promise. The IPCC is worth a mention because, in the words of David Wallace-Wells in The Uninhabitable Earth (well worth a read), it “offers the gold-standard assessments of the state of the planet and the likely trajectory for climate change.”

Climate change monitoring

The IPCC is one of the key organisations driving climate change science

For example, the Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2022 will tie together knowledge gained from multiple disciplines to provide the world with up-to-date information regarding climate change and help guide humanity down the path to fighting it.

The IPCC is probably the jewel in UNEP’s crown, a vitally important organisation for shaping our future.

We can all be superheroes

Whilst no organisation is perfect, and the UN has been criticised for being too bureaucratic, favouring certain countries too much, misallocating funds, and failing to meet its targets, organisations such as this are crucial for building a better future for us and our children.

We can all be superheroes to combat the climate crisis, and we certainly feel heartened to know that organisations like UNEP and the people behind them are on our side too.

Next month is the fifth anniversary of the SDGs, so watch out for progress updates about how we’re getting on.


If you have any questions or fun ideas regarding this (or anything really) feel to get in touch with Emilia Cullborg, editor and head of community outreach.

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