World set to mark 50 years of UN environmental movement birth


The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the world’s highest-level decision-making body with a universal membership of all 193 nations, is celebrating its 50th anniversary on March 3 and 4, bringing together governments, businesses, civil society and other stakeholders to address the environmental challenges that threaten the planet.

It will be preceded by the fifth session of the UN Environment assembly taking place — in person and online — at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi from February 28 to March 2 to agree on policies to address the most pressing environmental challenges.

Founded in 1972 following the landmark UN Conference on the Human Environment, UNEP was conceived to monitor the state of the environment, inform policy making with science and coordinate responses to the world’s environmental challenges.

Since its creation, UNEP has worked closely with its 193 member states and other stakeholders to galvanize worldwide commitments and coordinated action to address many of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.

It also played a leading role as the docking station for 15 multilateral environmental agreements.

Chemicals and waste management, marine litter and a green recovery from Covid-19 are some of the issues the UN Environment Assembly will address when it convenes for the resumed part of its fifth session, a UNEP spokesperson told IANS on Friday.

Environment ministers are also expected to consider the adoption of a declaration on strengthening actions for nature to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

For 50 years UNEP has coordinated a worldwide effort to confront the planet’s biggest environmental challenges. This global collaboration has helped repair the ozone layer, phase out leaded fuel, stop some endangered species from going extinct and more.

UNEP’s convening power and rigorous scientific research has provided a platform for countries to engage, act boldly and advance the global environmental agenda.

To mark UNEP’s 50th anniversary, a year-long series of activities and outreach events are taking place under the UNEP@50 banner. These recognize the significant progress made on global environmental matters and address the planetary challenges to come.

On October 2, 1973, Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta inaugurated UNEP’s headquarters at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre. In 1975, UNEP moved to a new location on the site of an old coffee farm on the outskirts of Nairobi, where it remains to this day.

The first meeting of the UNEP Governing Council took place in the Palais des Nations, Geneva, in June 1973.

In 2010, the first in a series of landmark science-based assessment by UNEP charts the gap between countries’ pledges on greenhouse gas emissions and the reductions required to deliver a global temperature increase of below 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

In 2016, Erik Solheim was appointed as Executive Director of UNEP. Solheim, a Norwegian, served from May 2016 to November 2018, championed action to tackle plastic pollution.

After Solheim, Joyce Msuya was appointed interim Executive Director. From November 2018 to June 2019, Msuya, a Tanzanian, tenure included leadership of the fourth UN Environment Assembly.

Inger Andersen appointed as Executive Director in 2019. A Danish national, she became the eighth and current leader of UNEP.

Andersen has more than 30 years of experience in international development economics, environmental sustainability, strategy and operations. She focuses UNEP and the broader United Nations on the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.

What is next after the world marks 50 years since the birth of the environmental movement. Stockholm+50 –an international meeting to be held from June 2-3 — will aim to accelerate the implementation of the UN Decade of Action, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement, and the post-2020 global Biodiversity Framework.

One of the main themes of the conference is to achieve a sustainable and inclusive recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

UN Secretary-General AntAonio Guterres has described the triple planetary crisis as “our number one existential threat” that needs “an urgent, all-out effort to turn things around”.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at



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