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The EU and the United Nations

The EU cooperates closely with the United Nations (UN) on the environment. Over the years, the UN has become a leading advocate for environmental concerns and sustainable development.

EU cooperation with the UN Environment Programme

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Commission have a long-standing partnership, covering a wide range of activities, programmes and projects in areas of common concern. Combating the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste is at the heart of this cooperation.

UNEP, including through the Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) it administers, and the European Commission have worked together since UNEP’s creation in 1972. The relationship was further strengthened through the agreement in 2004 of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), renewed in 2014, to strengthen the environmental dimension of sustainable development and poverty eradication when implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. The MoU is complemented by an Annex which was revisited in 2020 to reflect international developments and processes, as well as the strategic focus of the European Green Deal. The new Annex outlines priority areas of dialogues and cooperation for the period 2021-2025.

The EU is one of UNEP's main supporters for voluntary financial contributions, mainly coming from the EU's research and innovation and development cooperation programmes and instruments. This has allowed UNEP to implement its work programme and make a difference in environmental governance at global and regional levels.

UN Environment Assembly (UNEA)

The UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) is the world’s highest decision-making body on the environment. It is the governing body of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). It was created in 2013 and meets every two years in Nairobi, Kenya.

The EU, alongside its Member States, participates in the UNEA meetings (in line with UNGA Resolution A/65/276). The EU is represented through the EU Delegation in Nairobi, Kenya and is also a member of the Committee of Permanent Representatives at UNEP.

UNEA adopts resolutions and ministerial declarations on a large range of global environmental issues. Through these resolutions, UNEA guides the multilateral system as regards the overall coordination across the United Nations in the field of the environment, the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement, cooperating with Multilateral Environmental Agreements and supporting the environmental rule of law. UNEA can also launch new global agreements, such as the international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, for which UNEA-5 established an inter-governmental negotiating committee and requested it to conclude its work by 2024.

In March 2022, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the creation of UNEP,

UNEA convened a Special Session (UNEP@50). On this occasion UNEP launched a ground-breaking report “Making Peace with Nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies”. The report exposed the current unsustainable development model as the root cause of the rapid environmental degradation and declining capacity of Earth’s system to sustain human well-being. It called for a deep transformation of the socio-economic systems to secure a sustainable future.

Background to the EU cooperation with the UN

For a full overview of the United Nations environmental milestones, see here.

  1. 2015
    UN General Assembly adopts 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
  2. 2013
    UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) created and High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development established
    • UNEA created as UNEP’s new governing body with universal membership. See more on the EU and UNEA.
    • High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), replaced the Commission on Sustainable Development, as the main forum for sustainable development issues within the UN.
  3. 2012
    Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development
    • Secures renewed global political commitment for sustainable development.
    • Assesses progress made since Rio 1992, and addresses implementation gaps and emerging challenges.
    • Reaffirms the need to strengthen international environmental governance in its outcome document "The Future We Want"
    • Commits with a strong support by the European Union, to strengthen the role of UNEP as the leading global environmental authority.
  4. 1992
    Earth Summit
    • The Brundtland Report of the Commission is a catalyst for the Earth Summit (UN Conference on Environment and Development).
    • The Summit adopts the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21, a comprehensive plan of action for addressing both environment and development goals in the 21st century.
    • The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) is established by the UN General Assembly to ensure effective follow-up of the Earth Summit.


  5. 1983
    United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) convenes the World Commission on Environment and Development
  6. 1972
    United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the main UN environmental body

    Find out more about EU cooperation with UNEP.

For more information

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin

Daily coverage of sustainable development negotiations and events around the world, documenting global efforts to tackle global environmental challenges.