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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.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the creation of UNEP, UNEA convened a Special Session (UNEP@50) in March 2022. 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.

In February 2024, UNEA 6 saw Member States agree upon 15 resolutions aimed at boosting multilateral efforts to address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature loss and pollution. They included advancing work on the management of metals, mineral resources, as well as on chemicals and waste, environmental assistance and recovery in areas impacted by armed conflict, on integrated water resource management in the domestic sector, agriculture and industry to tackle water stress, on sustainable lifestyles and on the rehabilitation of degraded lands and waters.

Background to the EU cooperation with the UN

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

  1. 2023
    Global Framework on Chemicals agreed upon
    • The historic deal protects people and the environment from chemical pollution, which causes an estimated two million deaths every year.
    • There are 28 targets included, such as a call for action on highly hazardous pesticides and a crackdown on illegal chemicals.
  2. 2023
    States adopt High Seas Treaty
    • The aim of the accord is to protect the ocean and marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction that have come under increasing threat from pollution, climate change and overfishing.
  3. 2022
    Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework adopted by states
    • The agreement came in response to the dangerous decline in nature that threatens the survival of as many as one million species, committing countries to halt and reverse biodiversity losses by 2030.
  4. 2022
    Nations sign up to end plastic pollution
    • More than 175 nations endorsed a resolution at UNEA 5 to forge a legally binding agreement by 2024 to end the scourge of plastic pollution globally.
    • The resolution establishes the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution to develop the agreement.
  5. 2021
    UN Human Rights Council constitutes environmental right
    • The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), on 8 October 2021, recognised for the first time that having a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right.
  6. 2021
    UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is launched
    • World Environment Day 2021 marked the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which aims to mobilise hundreds of millions of people to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems, running until 20230.
  7. 2015
    UN General Assembly adopts 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.


  11. 1983
    United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) convenes World Commission on Environment and Development
  12. 1972
    United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the main UN environmental body

    Find out more about EU cooperation with UNEP.

For more information

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