Inger Andersen
Inger Andersen
Inger Andersen
UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director

2021 was a year in which environmental issues reached an unprecedented prominence on the global stage. The eyes of the world focused on the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow. While our leaders did not fully deliver, they have kept the door open to holding global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Negotiators continued to flesh out the post-2020 global biodiversity framework – so that nations can reach an agreement at COP15 in 2022. Momentum to address pollution and waste grew, with nations increasingly looking at a global framework to address plastic pollution and all its impacts, alongside existing frameworks and conventions on chemicals. Progress was also made at the COPs focused on the ozone layer, mercury and hazardous waste.

Despite these achievements, there is much work to do on addressing the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste – particularly as the chance to build back better after COVID-19 appears to have been lost. The University of Oxford’s Global Recovery Observatory, supported by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), showed that less than 20 per cent of total recovery spending was green. As UNEP marks its 50th anniversary, its mission to inspire, inform and enable nations to live in harmony with nature has never been more critical.

UNEP in 2021 backed the world’s efforts to transform its relationship with nature and tackle the triple planetary crisis through the Making Peace with Nature report. It brought the blueprint laid out in the report into its work through a new Medium Term Strategy for 2022-2025 –geared towards building a UN system that is stronger, more coordinated and mutually supportive of environmental action to accelerate global efforts to deliver the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. And it helped drive the action we need on the triple planetary crisis.

UNEP provided climate science to guide policymakers. The organization worked with the private sector to boost financing and support on everything from net-zero targets to nature-based solutions. UNEP backed global efforts to reduce emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane. A long UNEP-led campaign culminated in ending the use of lead in petrol, which will save millions of lives. UNEP supported action on the environmental rule of law in the year that the UN Human Rights Council recognized the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

The ability of UNEP to positively impact the environmental agenda depends on UNEP’s Member States and partners that fund and champion its mission. In 2021, contributions to UNEP’s core funding, the Environment Fund, exceeded those received during the past five years. UNEP is deeply grateful for all the support provided, especially during this second year of COVID-19.

UNEP will keep striving to improve. I was pleased to read the substantive evaluation of UNEP by the Multilateral Organization Performance Assessment Network. It was encouraging to see how UNEP has strengthened, but I also took careful note of the areas for further improvement.

UNEP has delivered, but it must deliver more. The challenge ahead is immense. Still, there are reasons to be hopeful. As a science-based organization, UNEP is pushing for breakthroughs, as this annual report shows.

Inger Andersen
Inger Andersen
UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director
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UNEP by the Numbers

$10 T

In assets under management by the UNEP Finance Initiative-run Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance members, who committed to aligning their portfolios with a 1.5 C scenario.


Banks from 66 countries have, by 2021, signed up to the Principles for Responsible Banking to align their strategies and practices with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement. Together, they account for 45 per cent of global banking assets.


Nations supported in the transition to eco-efficient products through UNEP’s United for Efficiency initiative.


Media articles published on World Environment Day and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

1.2 M

Premature deaths per year prevented through the UNEP-led Global Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles to ban the use of leaded petrol.


Companies representing more than 30 per cent of the world’s oil and gas production pledged greater transparency on reporting methane emissions through the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0.


Young people took part in UNEP’s Tide Turners behaviour change programme on plastic pollution in 32 countries.


Major companies aligned behind a shared vision of a circular economy for plastic that never becomes waste through the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment co-led by UNEP and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Planetary Action

Climate Action

Nature Action

Chemicals & Pollution Action

Making UNEP Fit for Purpose

New Medium-Term Strategy

In February 2021, Member States approved UNEP’s new Medium Term Strategy (MTS) for 2022-2025 and the Programme of Work for 2022-2023 to strengthen UNEP’s ability to deliver on its mandate as the world’s leading authority on the environment.

The MTS outlines UNEP’s contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Decade of Action, with a 2050 outlook on planetary sustainability for people, prosperity and equity. The strategy aligns UNEP’s systems, operations, procedures and culture to deliver with greater impact.

UNEP is also standardizing its delivery model to address long-standing challenges and strengthen project portfolio coherence and accountability framework.

Striving to improve

In 2021, UNEP underwent a substantive evaluation by the Multilateral Organization Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN), comprised of 21 countries that share a common interest in assessing the performance of the major multilateral organizations they fund.

Initiated by Belgium, Netherlands, and Switzerland, the assessment provided independent, robust and comprehensive insights into UNEP’s organizational performance from mid-2016 to 2020. It concluded that UNEP remained highly relevant and its role in global environmental issues increased. A survey of over 1,000 UNEP partners, 200 documentary sources and interviews with more than 40 staff informed the evaluation to validate the findings – set against a standard indicator framework based on international best practice.

The evaluation also highlighted areas of improvement for UNEP, notably resource mobilization and project design and review process.

Staff diversity

Much of UNEP’s work in 2021 focused on advancing staff diversity, starting with the endorsement of the UNEP Gender Parity Implementation Report and Implementation Plan 2021-2023 – a continuation of UNEP’s response to the Secretary General’s UN System-Wide Gender Parity Strategy.

At the same time, UNEP made steady progress in meeting and exceeding gender parity targets at the junior and most senior professional levels. Still, more work still needs to be done at the mid-senior level, where 43 per cent of staff are female.

UNEP is also committed to increasing staff from regional groupings underrepresented within the organization. Through targeted outreach measures in 2021, UNEP reached more than 600 potential candidates from various countries, along with 360 in the Ukraine and 60 from Russia. UNEP also improved its visibility as an employer of choice for those interested in working in scientific, environmental, biodiversity, climate change issues, and international development.

UNEP Funding






  • Earmarked fund
  • Environment fund
  • UN regular budget
  • Programme support cost

Top-15 Contributors of Earmarked Funds in 2021 (USD million)

Global Environmental Facility 166.5
Green Climate Fund 28.6
Germany 26.4
Norway 23.1
UN Agencies 23.0
European Commission 22.6
Multilateral Fund (Montreal Protocol) * 20.8
UNEP Finance Initiative ** 15.6
United Kingdom 12.6
Sweden 11.9
Foundation/NGO 7.4
Republic of Korea 5.4
Japan 5.2
Saudi Arabia 5.2
Denmark 4.7

Top-15 Environment Fund Contributors in 2021 (USD million)

Netherlands 9.2
Germany 8.8
France 7.5
USA 6.6
Belgium 6.1
Sweden 5
Denmark 4.9
United Kingdom 4.5
Switzerland 4
Norway 3
Finland 2.9
Italy 2.7
Canada 2.4
Spain 1.6
China 1.3
  • *
    These are resources from the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol.
  • **
    Partnership between UNEP and the global financial sector to mobilize private sector finance for sustainable development.

Contributors to Environment Fund (2021) by category (number of Member States)

  • Contributors of their full share* (39)
  • Contributors other amount (41)
  • Non-contributors (113)
  • *
    as per the indicative scale of contributions agreed by the Member States