There are daily reports in various media about the depletion of the ozone layer, climate change, dwindling freshwater resources, deforestation, acidification, desertification, air pollution and so on. When it comes to the future of the earth and humans, there are few areas that are as urgent for the UN to influence and achieve improvements as the environmental area.
The environment is a relatively new area that began to be discussed in the UN only in the 1970’s. In 1972, on the Swedish initiative, the UN’s first environmental conference was held in Stockholm. The most important result of the conference was the formation of an advisory body for the environment, the UN Environment Program, (Unep). The organization is today the leader in environmental work in the UN system and has, among other things, the task of following up the environmental conventions and agreements that have been entered into. Important environmental conventions are, for example, the Convention to Combat Desertification, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on Climate Change, which set out principles for limiting hazardous emissions. In the Additional Protocol, the so-called Kyoto Protocol from 1997, a number of countries undertake to limit certain emissions to certain levels. It was disappointing when the US Bush administration withdrew the US signature from the Kyoto Protocol in the early 2000’s. The Protocol entered into force in February 2005 (see below).
It was not until the end of the 1980’s that the environmental issue had a real international impact, above all by realizing that there is a strong link between economic development and environmental degradation. The Brundtland Commission launched the concept of “sustainable development”, ie today’s needs must be met, but consideration must be given to the fact that the world’s resources must also be sufficient for future generations.
At the UN’s major environmental conference, Unced, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992, most of the most important environmental issues were discussed. The Rio Conference adopted a declaration with the most important principles for environmental and development considerations as well as an action program – Agenda 21 – with guidelines for continued international and national work on the environment and development. Another result of the conference was the establishment of a special commission for sustainable development as a subsidiary body of Ecosoc. The Commission for Sustainable Development would monitor compliance with Agenda 21.
In the autumn of 2002, a new major environmental summit was held, this time in Johannesburg, South Africa. The aim of the meeting was to reconcile economic growth and the eradication of poverty in developing countries with the protection of the environment. The final declaration was criticized by mainly environmental organizations for being watered down. Among other things, the countries failed to formulate time-bound goals for purifying the air and for replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources.
The various UN institutions continued for a few years into the 2000’s to try to help developing countries and other needy countries to incorporate environmental considerations into national strategies for development and poverty reduction. Through the Global Environment Fund GEF, which was established in 1991, developing countries can receive grants for environmental projects.
The warnings about climate change have been rife in recent years. Several reports have indicated that action is urgent. In February 2007, a report was published by the United Nations Panel on Climate Change (IPPC, formed in 1988 by Unep and the United Nations Meteorological Agency, WMO). It confirmed that human emissions of so-called greenhouse gases have made the climate warmer. The fact that the Security Council first discussed climate change in April 2007 further demonstrated the new focus on these issues. The topic was raised by the British government, which pointed out how conflicts can arise when access to water, food and energy is threatened by climate change. In 2007, the IPPC received the Nobel Peace Prize together with former US Vice President Al Gore. They were rewarded for their work to build greater knowledge about climate change.
At the UN climate conference in Copenhagen, the countries were supposed to lay the foundations for a new climate agreement before the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. But the meeting was a failure. An agreement was adopted but the countries could not agree on any levels of emission reductions. The agreement was also not legally binding. The contradictions were partly due to the fact that many developing countries considered that they had the same right as rich countries to economic development and growth and that they would therefore be unfair if they were to be subject to the same emission restrictions as rich countries.
According to aristmarketing, a new UN meeting, with the states acceding to the UN Convention on Climate Change, was held in Cancún, Mexico in the autumn of 2010. At the meeting, the Nagoya Protocol was adopted, which aims to at least halve the current rate of plant and animal extinction by 2020.
In December 2011, another climate summit was held in Durban, South Africa. One result of the meeting was that the countries agreed to negotiate a new binding climate agreement by 2015 and that it would enter into force in 2020. No countries would be exempt from the agreement, as was the case with the Kyoto Protocol, but greater demands would be placed on rich countries. The countries also agreed on other measures, including the establishment of a special climate fund that would cover about $ 100 billion, money that would be channeled to the environmental work of poor countries.
At the end of 2012, a UN conference was held in the framework of the Climate Change Convention in Doha, Qatar. At the meeting, it was decided to continue the work towards drawing up a binding climate agreement. In addition, the period of validity of the Kyoto Protocol was extended to 2020, until a new agreement was in place. At the same time, there were reports from environmental organizations that carbon dioxide emissions were higher than ever.
At the Warsaw climate conference in November 2013, it was decided that countries would submit their emissions targets during the first quarter of 2015, in preparation for the conference in Paris at the end of the same year, when the goal is to reach a new globally binding climate agreement. At the Warsaw Conference, a group of developing countries, so-called “likeminded developing countries”, argued that developing countries would continue not to be bound by new emission reductions, but that they must have the same right as industrialized countries to development. In addition, the grouping of countries, which included Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, China and Cuba, among others, claimed that it was rich western countries that had a historical debt.
The conference also decided to create an opportunity for poor populations to receive better protection and compensation in connection with severe weather-related disasters and also rising sea levels.
The Rio + 20 conference in June 2012 was intended as a follow-up meeting to Unced. The most important result of the meeting was that the 190 participating countries adopted a plan to have specific Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) drawn up (see also Reforms of the UN Development Work). The goals would build on the Millennium Development Goals. A special forum was also set up to coordinate the global work for sustainable development. The conference was also considered by some observers to play an important role in drawing attention to the importance for countries and regions to strive to establish a “green economy”, ie where economic decision-making is permeated by environmental considerations at all levels.