Matthew Heimer


The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) marked its

25th anniversary last December in a state of disarray. UNEP is arguably

the world's most important international environmental agency. No other

organization can match its track record of success in coordinating the

negotiation and implementation of international environmental treaties.

But since early 1997, UNEP has been on the brink of bankruptcy and

institutional extinction; and now, facing pressure to reform, the

organization is likely to pursue policies that would aggravate tensions over

environmental policy between the industrialized North and the developing


According to its critics, UNEP has drastically overextended its

mandate over the past decade by failing to set clear priorities and by

undertaking missions and projects for which it lacks the resources and

expertise to implement. In so doing, the organization has drained both its

coffers and its credibility, while confidence in the agency has eroded

among the richer nations that fund most of its operations. At a time when

the United Nations (UN) in general is under tremendous pressure to

downsize and reduce costs, UNEP has come to be seen by many donor

governments as a wasteful and ineffective bureaucracy.