UN Environment Programme and UN Habitat

UN Environment Programme

The United Nations Environment Programme UNEP, established in 1972, is the leading international player in environmental issues. The purpose of the Environment Programme is to promote environmentally sustainable development and coordinate environmental affairs within the UN System, speak for the state of the environment, and establish a global environmental agenda.

All UN Member States are also members of the highest body for environmental affairs, the UN Environment Assembly UNEA. Initiatives made at the UNEA relating to international environmental legislation and environmental policy processes will eventually be reflected in the EU and in individual countries. UNEA convenes every second year at its headquarters in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.

Finland is an active player in both UNEP and UNEA. Finland contributes to UNEA through work done by highly competent public officials and, on the political level, through Minister of the Environment, Energy and Housing Kimmo Tiilikainen, who is a member of the UNEA Executive Board (2017–2019). The Committee of Permanent Representatives of UNEP meets in Nairobi four times a year. Almost all EU positions concerning UNEP are prepared at the Working Party on International Environmental Issues (WPIEI Global). Important forums of influence also include the annual joint Nordic consultations with the UNEP management.

UNEP has a major role in the implementation and monitoring of the environmental dimension of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The objective of the 2030 Agenda is to turn global development into a path where human welfare and human rights, economic prosperity and stable societies can be secured in an environmentally sustainable manner, and extreme poverty is eradicated. Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved without taking environmental issues into account in a comprehensive way. UNEP considers that in more than half of the SDGs the key focus is on the environment or sustainability in terms of natural resources. Environmental sustainability has also been taken into account in at least 86 of the associated targets.

A challenge for UNEP is the fragmentation of the international environmental administration. Within the UN system the responsibility for environmental issues is divided between several organisations. At the same time, the resources for SDGs relating to the environment and natural resources are considered insufficient relative to the countries’ needs and objectives. Opportunities to boost the implementation of the environmental dimension are offered by the reform of the UN development system, implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and the French initiative concerning a new Global Pact for the Environment that would combine environmental law and the principles of sustainable development. A stronger role for UNEP and UNEA supports the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in respect of the environmental dimension.

The UNEP Medium Term Strategy 2018-2021 is based on the Rio+20 Outcome Document “the future we want” and the 2030 Agenda. The strategy places people at the centre of sustainable development and aims to fulfil the needs of the current and future generations without jeopardising the state of the environment and exceeding the ecological limits of the planet. It stresses the role of science and stronger scientific dialogue in finding solutions to sustainable development challenges. The strategy is to be implemented through a number of subprogrammes concerning climate change, disasters and conflicts, ecosystems, environmental governance, harmful substances and hazardous waste, resource efficiency, sustainable consumption and production, and review of the state of the environment on a regular basis.

UNEP has an important normative role in international environmental cooperation, based on the international law instruments adopted under the auspices of UNEP and the scientific work it has produced. UNEP offers secretariat services to several environmental agreements and scientific panels and support in the implementation of agreements. It has a key role in negotiations on new international environmental agreements and action programmes. Among the main tasks is also to improve the linkages between science, policies and decision-making.

Finland has been strong supporter of UNEP from the very beginning. At its highest Finland contributed EUR 6 million in general funding in 2015, after which this has also been reduced due to the cuts in development cooperation funds. In 2018 Finland contributed a total of EUR 1.5 million.

UN Habitat for a better urban future

UN Habitat promotes socially, economically and environmental sustainable human settlements development and improving the living conditions of the poorest people. UN Habitat enhances knowledge about the relationship between urbanisation and poverty and influences the formulation of policy guidelines concerning the sustainable development of settlements, decent housing and good governance. Most of the work is done as practical cooperation projects with specific countries. UN Habitat has an important role in producing and enhancing knowledge on urbanisation and provision of expert assistance. UN Habitat was established in 1976 as an outcome of the first UN Habitat Conference in Vancouver. In 2002 the mandate of UN Habitat was strengthened and its status elevated to that of a fully-fledged programme of the UN system. The New Urban Agenda (NUA) was adopted at the third Habitat Conference in 2016, which was the largest ever UN Conference.

UN Habitat has a key role in the implementation, monitoring, advice and technical know-how relating to the New Urban Agenda development programme. The New Urban Agenda is concerned with concrete action and sets global targets to achieve sustainable urban development. The implementation of the Agenda takes place in collaboration between the Member States and UN as well as the private sector and local governments. This is closely connected to SDG 11, which aims at inclusive, safe and sustainable urban areas.

During 2018 the Member States will decide on a governance reform of the organisation. According to the draft reform to be presented to the UN General Assembly, in future the decision-making body would be the UN-Habitat Assembly (UNHA) to be convened twice a year to decide on the political and strategic framework. Executive Board is the executive body comprised of 36 members that oversees and implements the policies and strategies decided by UNHA. The Committee of Permanent Representatives represents the Member States at the UN-Habitat headquarters in Nairobi and monitors that the Secretariat implements the decisions made by UNHA. The Committee of Permanent Representatives meets every two years in an open ended manner, i.e. with UN urban representatives also present. The Committee of Permanent Representatives and Executive Body are accountable to the UN-Habitat Assembly, which in turn is accountable to the UN General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council.

Finland fully endorses the policy priorities, field of operations and content of the organisation. In line with the New Urban Agenda Finland has adopted a programme on sustainable urban development (2017–2022), where the priorities also implement the SDGs, especially SDG 11 concerning safe and sustainable cities and human settlements. The particular focus areas in Finland’s programme are low-carbon cities, resource efficiency, smart services, combating inequality, and health considerations.

Finland contributed to the funding of UN-Habitat from 1976 until 2015. During the 2000s the non-committed funding by Finland was about EUR 500,000 a year. The funding for UN-Habitat was discontinued in 2015 as part of the overall cuts in development cooperation funding.

Further information

Marjaana Kokkonen
Ministerial Adviser
+358 295 250 025
firstname.lastname@ym.fi

Published 2019-01-30 at 14:22, updated 2019-01-31 at 10:44