26 Jun 2020 Story Environment under review

Environmental Moments: A UN75 timeline

United Nations

In recognition of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, United Nations Environment Programme has compiled a series of snapshots overtime. We have served as an authoritative advocate for the global environment since 1972. Our aim is to inspire, inform and enable nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.




The United Nations General Assembly declares 2021—2030 as the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which aims to scale up the restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems as a proven measure to fight the climate crisis and enhance food security, water supply and biodiversity.

UN Photo/Mark Garten
UN Photo/Mark Garten

UN Secretary-General António Guterres visits the South Pacific to spotlight the issue of climate change ahead of the Climate Action Summit in New York. In addition to Tuvalu, the trip took him to New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu. In each country, the Secretary-General met with government leaders, civil society representatives and youth groups, to hear from those already impacted by climate change and who are also successfully engaging in meaningful climate action.

UN Photo/Cia Pak
UN Photo/Cia Pak

UN Climate Action Summit 2019. The Summit was convened by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, and aimed to deliver new pathways and practical actions to shift global response into higher gear on confronting climate change, as well as to boost ambition and accelerate action to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.


The Minamata Convention on Mercury comes into force with the objective of protecting human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury compounds. The Convention contains provisions that relate to the life cycle of mercury, including controls and reductions across a range of products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted.


UNEP launches the Clean Seas campaign to engage governments, the general public and the private sector in the fight against marine litter. 

UNEP launches Young Champions of the Earth to celebrate and support individuals aged between 18 and 30 who have outstanding potential to create a positive environmental impact.



In response to the global trafficking crisis, UNEP launches Wild for Life, a campaign to protect endangered wildlife species. The campaign raises awareness and elicit behaviour change to prevent poaching and illegal trade and to reduce demand for wildlife and wildlife products.

UNEP and partners launches the BreatheLife campaign to raise awareness of the impacts and solutions of air pollution. It works with cities and countries in a global effort to improve air quality and ensure a thriving planet, raising global awareness on the importance of air quality for health, climate, ecosystems and economic development.


The United Nations Sustainable Development Summit leads to the adoption of 17 Sustainable Development Goals as part of a new global agenda on sustainable development, with several focusing the on environment, including life below water, life on land, climate action, clean water and sanitation, and affordable and clean energy.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference leads to a landmark climate agreement. At the meeting in Paris, 195 countries adopt the world’s first universal and legally binding global climate deal.


The Climate Summit 2014 is held at UN Headquarters in New York. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited leaders of governments, the private sector, and civil society to unite in taking concrete action towards a low-carbon emission world


First UNEA 2014

The ozone layer shows signs of recovery. As the first United Nations Environment Assembly meets, evidence emerges that the ozone layer is healing thanks to the Montreal Protocol, emphasizing the power of collective action.


UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The United Nations General Assembly establishes the universal membership of UNEP’s governing body, ushering in a new era of stronger international environmental governance during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as RIO+20.

UNEP Member States launch the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services to provide policymakers with reliable, independent and credible information on the status of biodiversity in response to concerns about the lack of policy-relevant information to tackle threats. 


Ministers of environment and heads of delegations adopt the Nusa Dua Declaration at the eleventh special session of the UNEP Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Bali, Indonesia. The declaration underscores the vital importance of biodiversity, the urgent need to combat climate change and the advantages of advancing towards a “green economy.”

2010 Emissions gap report

UNEP launches the first Emission Gap Report, a science-based assessment of the gap between countries’ pledges on greenhouse gas emissions and the reductions required to deliver a global temperature increase of below 2˚C by the end of this century.


UN Photo/Mark Garten
UN Photo/Mark Garten

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visits the Polar ice rim to witness first-hand the impact of climate change on icebergs and glaciers. The visit was part of the UN Chief's campaign urging Member States to "seal the deal" on a fair, balanced and effective agreement at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.

UN Photo/Mark Garten
UN Photo/Mark Garten

The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference raised climate change policy to the highest political level. Close to 115 world leaders attended the high-level segment, making it one of the largest gatherings of world leaders ever outside UN headquarters in New York. Countries attending the Conference agreed to 'take note' of a document entitled the Copenhagen Accord. This included the long-term goal of limiting the maximum global average temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.


Member States launch the UN-REDD programme. It has since spurred 14 national initiatives to combat deforestation, forest degradation and climate change.

UNEP becomes a climate-neutral organization, announcing its aim to reduce emissions by 3 per cent every year and to buy carbon credits to compensate for the remaining emissions.



The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to build and disseminate knowledge about human-made climate change and to lay foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.


UNEP launches Champions of the Earth, the United Nations flagship global environmental award. Its aim is to celebrate outstanding figures from the public and private sectors and from civil society whose actions have had a transformative, positive impact on the environment.


World Summit on Sustainable Development

The World Summit on Sustainable Development takes place in Johannesburg, with a focus on improving people's lives and conserving our natural resources in a world that is growing in population.


UN Photo/Mark Garten
UN Photo/Mark Garten

United Nations Member States adopt the Stockholm Convention. The Convention, which includes 176 parties, aims to protect human health and the environment from chemicals that persist for long periods in the environment.


103 countries sign the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, a supplement to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The international agreement aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of organisms that have been modified using modern biotechnology. The Protocol aims to guard against adverse effects on biological diversity and risks to human health.


The Millennium Declaration outlines the Millennium Development Goals, including environmental sustainability. Millennium Development Goal 7 sets specific environmental targets, including biodiversity loss, forest cover and access to safe drinking water.


UN Photo/Ariane Rummery
UN Photo/Ariane Rummery

United Nations Member States adopt The United Nations Global Compact. With more than 8,500 signatories from 135 countries, the initiative aims to encourage businesses worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies and to report on their implementation.


The United Nations launches the Rotterdam Convention to promote shared responsibilities in relation to the import of hazardous chemicals and pesticides.


UN Photo/Evan Schneider
UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The General Assembly convenes a Special Session focused on the environment. Known as Earth Summit +5, its aim is to accelerate the implementation of Agenda 21 and launch a new global partnership for sustainable development.

UNEP presents the first publication of the Global Environment Outlook. The series places a priority on reflecting regional perspectives and realities and reporting on the status of the global environment.


Jeremy Bishop

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification enters into force. The Convention, which has 195 parties, is the only legally binding international agreement that links environment and development to sustainable land management.


In a victory for ecosystem research, parties agree to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, also known as the Water Convention on 17 March.

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit, takes place in Rio de Janeiro, 3–14 June. It establishes several major environmental agreements, including Agenda 21, and opens two multilateral treaties for signature: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity.



United Nations Member States establish the Global Environment Facility. Since its founding, the Global Environment Facility has provided US$14.5 billion in grants and mobilized US$75.4 billion in additional financing for nearly 4,000 environmental projects around the world.

In Espoo, Finland, the
Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment is established as an essential framework for managing international environmental concerns.


UN Photo
UN Photo

183 countries adopt the Basel Convention to regulate the movement and disposal of hazardous waste.



UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization launch the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with the objective of providing governments at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies.


The World Commission on Environment and Development delivers the Brundtland Report to the General Assembly, ushering in a new approach to environmental action focused on the concepts of sustainable development.

The Governments of Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe adopt the Zambezi River Action Plan. Covering eight countries across southern Africa, the plan sets a new standard for transboundary water resources management.

All 197 United Nations Member States adopt the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The landmark multilateral environmental agreement regulates the production and consumption of nearly 100 human-made chemicals referred to as ozone-depleting substances. The Protocol is to date the only United Nations treaty to be ratified by every country on Earth.


Stockholm Conference-1982

UNEP’s Governing Council adopts the first Montevideo Programme, setting priorities for global environmental lawmaking. It leads to major agreements—including the Basel, Stockholm and Rotterdam conventions and the Montreal Protocol—and supports 120 governments in developing environmental legislation.


UN Photo/John Isaac
UN Photo/John Isaac

UN General Assembly designates the 1980’s as the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade. Water, once considered to be an abundant resource, is becoming scare in several geographical areas. Only 2.8 per cent of earth’s water is fresh water. The world is in unanimous agreement on the need to save and conserve water.


UN Photo/Miguel Gonzalez
UN Photo/Miguel Gonzalez

In partnership with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the World Wildlife Fund, UNEP publishes the World Conservation Strategy. This landmark document defines the concept of sustainable development and shapes the global sustainable development agenda.


UN Photo/Miguel Gonzalez
UN Photo/Miguel Gonzalez

Seventeen countries agree to cooperate in research and support protections on 120 migratory species and establish the Bonn Convention on Migratory Species.

The United Nations Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution establishes the world’s first legally binding instrument to address regional air quality.


UN Photo/Michos Tzovaras
UN Photo/Michos Tzovaras

Sixteen countries across the Mediterranean agree to promote integrated coastal zone management and adopt the Mediterranean Action Plan.


Old UNEP buildings

The world celebrates the first World Environment Day on 5 June, under the theme “Only One Earth.”

UNEP launches the Regional Seas Programme to address the accelerating degradation of the world’s oceans and coastal areas through a “shared seas” approach.



On 2 October, Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta inaugurates the headquarters of UNEP at Kenyatta International Convention Centre, Nairobi.

The first meeting of the Governing Council of UNEP takes place in the Palais des Nations, Geneva, 12–22 June.

United Nations Member States adopt The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Parties agree to monitor, regulate or ban trade in at-risk species.


Stockholm Convention 1972

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is established after the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm, Sweden 5–16 June 1972.


UN Photo/Cahail
UN Photo/Cahail

In a first-of-its-kind survey of global environmental issues, the Secretary-General’s report on Problems of the Human Environment issues a stark warning: “If current trends continue, life on Earth could be endangered.”


UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata
UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata

In one of the earliest organizing documents of multilateral environmental action, the United Nations Secretary-General delivers a report, Activities of United Nations Organizations and Programmes Relevant to the Human Environment. The report lays the groundwork for the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as the world’s leading environmental authority.