United Nations with its headquarters at New York, USA, is an organization which has played and is still playing a very important role in the development of environmental policies and the resolution of many environmental problems.
It is a global organization consisting of 185 states which is platform for discussion and resolution of all sort of problems of its member states. The charter for the establishment of this world body was approved and signed by 51 countries representing 80% of the world’s population on June 26, 1945, at San Francisco.
United Nations function mainly through a structure of committees, assemblies, councils and some semi-autonomous bodies. The Secretariat of the United Nations provides administrative services for the General Assembly and its other bodies. It is headed by a Secretary General which is elected by the General Assembly. Of the three important councils of the United Nations the Council for Economic and Social Affairs (ECOSOC) is directly concerned with environmental matters. Closely related with ECOSOC but attached administratively to the United Nations Secretariat are a number of semi-autonomous bodies which, in various degrees, are involved in making and implementation of environmental policies. These are:
1. United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), established in 1963.
2. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), established in 1964.
3. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), established in 1965.
4. United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), established in 1965, became specialized agency in 1986.
5. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), established in 1972.
To this group may be added bodies of a more strictly economic character whose decisions may have some environmental impact. These include General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which was established in 1947 in lieu of the International Trade Organization and the United Nations Disaster Relief Organization which are involved in a number of activities related with the environmental policy.
Associated with the United Nations is the International Court of Justice (The World Court) which adjudicates cases submitted to it by member states of the United Nations. Though the World Court has not been able to play a significant role in environmental affairs, yet with the growing number of environmental treaties it is expected that the Court may become an important body to decide disputes arising from exercise of environmental policies in near future.