UN Environment Assembly and Governing Council

The United Nations Environment Assembly is the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment. It addresses the critical environmental challenges facing the world today. Understanding these challenges and preserving and rehabilitating our environment is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


The Environment Assembly meets biennially to set priorities for global environmental policies and develop international environmental law. Through its resolutions and calls to action, the Assembly provides leadership and catalyses intergovernmental action on the environment. Decision-making requires broad participation, which is why the Assembly provides an opportunity for all peoples to help design solutions for our planet’s health.


History of the United Nations Environment Assembly

The United Nations Environment Assembly was created in June 2012, when world leaders called for UN Environment to be strengthened and upgraded during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also referred to as RIO+20. The Environment Assembly embodies a new era in which the environment is at the centre of the international community’s focus and is given the same level of prominence as issues such as peace, poverty, health and security. The establishment of the Environment Assembly was the culmination of decades of international efforts, initiated at the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972 and aimed at creating a coherent system of international environmental governance.


The first and second sessions of the UN Environment Assembly tackled and adopted resolutions on major issues of illegal trade in wildlife, air quality, environmental rule of law, financing the Green Economy, the Sustainable Development Goals, and “delivering on the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. It was also a success with the adoption in 2014 of a Ministerial Outcome Document that called for the achievement of “an ambitious, universal implementable and realizable Post-2015 Development Agenda” that integrated all the dimensions of sustainable development for “the protection of the environment and the promotion of inclusive social and economic development in harmony with nature”.

The Third Environment Assembly took place in Nairobi 4-6 December 2017 Assembly under the overarching theme “Towards a pollution-free planet”. The Assembly addressed five sub-themes: Water Pollution, Land Pollution, Marine Pollution, Air Pollution, and Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste. It adopted a Ministerial Declaration and adopted 11 resolutions and 3 decisions, calling for accelerated action and strengthened partnerships on, inter alia: combating the spread of marine plastic litter and microplastics; eliminating exposure to lead paint and promoting environmentally sound management of used lead-acid batteries; environment and health; improving air quality globally; pollution control by mainstreaming biodiversity into key sectors; addressing water pollution to protect and restore water-related ecosystems; managing soil pollution to achieve sustainable development; and pollution prevention and control in areas affected by terrorist operations and armed conflicts. Over 4,300 delegates participated in UNEA-3 and its related events, including about 1200 delegates from more than 170 Member States, more than 700 representatives of Major Groups and other stakeholders, and 94 intergovernmental organizations.


The Fourth Environment Assembly will be held in Nairobi 11-15 March 2019, focusing on the theme “Innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production”. More information is available here.


Governance of the United Nations Environment Assembly

United Nations Environment Assembly Bureau

The Environment Assembly sets the global environmental agenda in cooperation with UN institutions and Multilateral Environmental Agreements.


The meetings of the Assembly are governed by its Rules of Procedure.


The Assembly is led by a Bureau and its President. The UN Environment Assembly Bureau  assists the President in the general conduct of business of the UN Environment Assembly. The Bureau is composed of ten Ministers of the Environment for a term of two years, and follows geographical rotations.


The Assembly is the governing body of the UN Environment Programme (UN Environment) and the successor of its Governing Council, which was composed of 58 member States. The UN Environment Assembly, with a universal membership, is now composed of 193 Member States.


Committee of Permanent Representatives

The Committee of Permanent Representatives is the inter-sessional intergovernmental body of the Assembly. The Committee is led by accredited Permanent Representatives to the UN Environment Programme, which account for 118 members. The Committee of Permanent Representatives was formally established as a subsidiary organ of the Governing Council (now the UN Environment Assembly) in May 1985. The Committee meets on a quarterly basis led by a five-member Bureau elected for a period of two years.


Throughout the year, Member States engage in formal preparatory discussions under the framework of the Open-ended meetings of the Committee of Permanent Representatives. The Committee contributes to the preparation of the agenda of the UN Environment Assembly, provides advice to the Assembly on policy matters, prepares decisions for adoption by the UN Environment Assembly and oversees their implementation. The outcomes of the most important preparatory meetings of the Committee of Permanent Representatives are available in the documents section.


A model of joint cooperation

To reach decisions on matters pertaining to the Assembly, joint sessions are convened with the Bureau of the UN Environment Assembly and the Committee of Permanent Representatives. The Joint Bureaux meetings enhance cooperation and transparency on the development and functioning of the Assembly. It is also during these preparatory meetings that the agenda and the structure of the Assembly are defined and adopted.


Summaries of the meetings of the Bureaux (United Nations Environment Assembly BureauCommittee of Permanent Representatives and Joint Bureaux meetings) can be found here