International Cooperation

EPA's Role in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

flag pictures: EPA, UNEP and the United States of America

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), established in 1972, addresses environmental issues at the global and regional level for the United Nations. UNEP’s mission is “to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.”  

To accomplish its mission, UNEP:

  • assesses environmental conditions and trends at the global, regional and national levels; 
  • develops international agreements and national environmental instruments; and 
  • strengthens institutions for wise environmental management. 

UNEP is governed by the United Nations Environment Assembly, a council with universal membership that sets the UNEP agenda. 

Visit the UNEP website. Exit

EPA-UNEP Cooperation

September 2016: EPA and the new UNEP Executive Director Solheim signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at EPA headquarters in Washington, DC. The MOU identifies areas for strategic cooperation, including:

  • strengthening environmental laws and national governance; 
  • creating healthy communities, particularly for children; 
  • facilitating the transition to a green economy; 
  • responding to global challenges such as climate change; 
  • and providing scientific leadership. 

The first EPA-UNEP MOU was signed during the 26th Session of the UNEP Governing Council Meeting/Global Ministerial Environment ForumExit in Nairobi, Kenya in 2011.

The Second United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 2)

May 2016: Ministers and delegations from 174 countries gathered at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya to discuss a wide variety of critical environmental issues at the Second United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA2). The conference focused on the theme “Healthy Environments, Healthy People.”  EPA played a leadership role as an integral part of the United States interagency team, including contributing to the following topics:

  • reducing exposure to harmful chemicals like lead and mercury,
  • preventing marine litter and protecting the marine environment, and
  • strengthening connections between human health and the environment.

The assembly also adopted a resolution drafted by the EPA on the prevention, reduction and reuse of food waste, marking the first time this issue was raised as a significant issue in a multilateral environment ministers meeting.

About UNEP

Logo of the United Nations Environment Programme

In the past, UNEP was administered by a 58-member Governing Council, but at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012, “universal membership” was established for UNEP, to include the full 193 member states of the UN. This change also replaced UNEP’s Governing Council with the UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA) of UNEP, composed of the full 193 UN members.  

UNEA acts as a parliament of the environment and sets UNEP’s agenda. The first meeting of UNEA (UNEA1) took place in June 2014. UNEA 2 was held in May 2016.  The third meeting of UNEA (UNEA 3) is scheduled for December 2017.

UNEP’s work focuses on seven cross-cutting environment priorities: 

  • chemicals, waste and air quality, 
  • climate change,  
  • disasters and conflicts, 
  • ecosystems management, 
  • environmental governance,
  • resource efficiency, 
  • the environment under review. 

Another outcome of Rio+20 was the adoption of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production or 10YFP, for which UNEP serves as the Secretariat.  

UNEP also hosts the secretariats of several programs and conventions, including:

UNEP has regional offices for Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, and West Asia. The current Executive Director of UNEP, Erik Solheim, was appointed by the UN General Assembly in May 2016 for a four year term.


EPA has had a long and successful relationship with UNEP, including numerous substantive partnerships to strengthen global efforts to protect human health and the environment. The 2011 and 2016 MOUs between EPA and UNEP solidified this relationship and have deepened our engagement on a range of issues, including:  

Chemicals and Waste

EPA plays a leadership role in the Global Mercury Partnership and strongly supported the Mercury Emissions Study Exitthat influenced the development of the Minamata Convention on mercury. EPA serves as co-chair for the Partnership Advisory Group and leads the Products and Chlor-Alkali Partnership Areas. 

EPA plays a leadership role as current chair of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, which is working to have all countries enact laws to eliminate lead in paint by 2020. UNEP and the World Health Organization (WHO) serve as secretariat for the Lead Paint Alliance. 

Climate and Air

EPA was instrumental in establishing and continues to play a leadership role in the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles. This partnership has achieved the near universal elimination of lead in gasoline worldwide and is working to eliminate sulfur from fuels. 

EPA is implementing projects under the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) Exitto address non-CO2 climate forcers that also pose a direct threat to human health, such as black carbon and particulate matter. UNEP serves as the secretariat for the CCAC. 

EPA is on the steering committee for the Global Adaptation Network, for which UNEP is the secretariat. The network’s signature initiative is Sustained Learning Exchanges, which connect local and regional communities with each other and technical experts to  identify appropriate adaptation measures.  

Marine and Water

water's edge at sunset

EPA also works on the UNEP Regional Seas Programme Exit, launched in 1974, which aims to address the accelerating degradation of the world’s ocean and coastal areas through the sustainable management and use of the marine and coastal environment, by engaging neighboring countries in comprehensive and specific actions to protect their shared marine environment. EPA is the designated United States “Technical Focal Point” for the Land-Based Sources (LBS) Protocol under the Cartagena Convention.

EPA coordinates closely with 27 other countries in the Wider Caribbean RegionExit working through UNEP's Caribbean Environment Program (CEP)Exit which was launched in 1976.   The Cartagena ConventionExit negotiated in 1983, includes three protocols that have been adopted to address specific pollution or environmental resources:

The work of the CEP today focuses on serving member states and increasing implementation of these environmentally protective protocols, information management and exchange, and environmental education and training. EPA staff provide expert advice on management of land-based sources of pollution to both protect human health and coastal and marine resources.  

EPA also participates in UNEP’s Global Partnership on Marine Litter Exit by providing guidance based on EPA’s domestic Trash Free Waters program. In 2016, EPA began a partnership with the UNEP Caribbean Environment Program to expand Trash-Free Waters to include international marine litter prevention initiatives, with Jamaica and Panama as pilot countries. 


EPA serves as the US National Focal Point for the 10YFP, coordinating closely with UNEP through its North America regional office.Exit  EPA has embarked on several new 10YFP activities, including international cooperation on 

  • Sustainable Public Procurement: EPA was part of launching this UNEP-led initiative at Rio+20 and serves on the Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Committee and several of the program's Working Groups.
  • Life Cycle Assessment: as part of the 10YFP Consumer Information Programme. 
  • Food waste: EPA drafted and played a key role in the adoption of a UNEA-2 resolution on the prevention, reduction and reuse of food waste, and is working with the UN Regional Office for North America to promote the recovery of food waste and food recycling consistent with the United States 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal.

Environmental Indicators and Data

EPA has worked with other countries and regions to help design and implement the UNEP Live Exit web-based environmental assessment platform. UNEP Live is designed to provide access to national, regional and global assessments and data to improve science for environmental decision-making.  


For additional information on EPA's work with International Organizations, contact:
Hodayah Finman
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of International and Tribal Affairs (2670R)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-6600