This research program, which was a strategic institute program (SIP) financed by the Research Council of Norway, had as its point of departure the dominating role of the UN in global environmental governance. There is hardly any multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) negotiated without the active involvement of one or more UN bodies. There has, however, been significant criticism of the UN for lack of effectiveness in its work: The number of MEAs is constantly growing but there is no significant improvement in the global state of the environment. What is the potential for increased effectiveness on the part of relevant UN bodies?

The UN was studied both as an actor and as an arena. The arena function was studied primarily in terms of the role and significance of the global conferences on environment and development. Here it was concluded that they have played a significant role in several ways but that their significance has been reduced over time. Alternative and novel approaches should be considered. Concerning the actor dimension, most attention was paid to UNEP – and its role in coordinating MEAs. Although UNEP has certain strengths, not least in terms of legitimacy among developing countries, based on preliminary findings there are also considerable weaknesses in terms of effectiveness.

The role of the UN in implementing MEAs was also studied, with a main focus on the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). The main case study was China, the largest recipient of GEF funding. There is no doubt that GEF has made considerable contributions to China's environmental policy and planning, but there are considerable differences across issue areas.

Project period: 2002-2009



  • The Research Council of Norway