Only one earth: the United Nations system and ICAO’s role in it


The United Nations is part of the UN system, which, in addition to the UN itself, comprises many funds, programmes, and specialized agencies, each of which has their own area of work, leadership, and budget. The programmes and funds are financed through voluntary rather than assessed contributions. The Specialized Agencies are independent international organizations funded by both voluntary and assessed contributions. The UN coordinates its work with these separate UN system entities, which cooperate with the Organization to help it achieve its goals. United Nations Day is an annual celebration that recognizes the ratification of the UN Charter on October 24, 1945. This year marks the UN’s 76th anniversary. Traditionally, the day represents a time of collaboration between States and UN organizations. In the decade of action, now is more important than ever to act to protect the plane and the people within it. That is why the theme this year in particular is “recovering better for a sustainable and equitable world” focusing on sustainable development in a post-COVID world. Ultimately, UN Day means taking action, working for peace, promoting gender equality, and championing human rights. All actions to lead to the UN’s 2030 goal. 

The 2030 goal, along with the magnitude of work the UN, is carried out with the help of the many organizations that make up the UN. Though often reference is made to 17 specialized agencies, there are officially 15 (the World Bank, which is composed of three specialized agencies, counts as one). They include:


Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

The primary goals of the FAO include abundant, accessible, and available food to all, leading international efforts to end world hunger. It does this by facilitating the exchange of information regarding food production and its best practices. In turn, encourages States to adopt legislative and regulatory frameworks to promote sustainable agricultural development. 


International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD)

Established in 1977, IFAC works with the rural poor in developing countries, empowering them to improve their agricultural practices, raise their productivity and incomes, and eliminate poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.


International Labour Organization (ILO)

The ILO was designated as the first specialized agency of the UN in 1946, operating since 1919. The ILO solicits input from national governments, employers, and workers to establish internationally recognized labour standards enshrined in multilateral treaties. Additionally, the organization develops policies and practices to promote safety and equality in the workplace and maintains a database of national laws governing labour and employment practices.


International Maritime Organization (IMO)

The IMO functions to develop and maintain a regulatory framework regarding maritime safety and security, sustainability, and efficiency, all of which govern the international shipping industry. These efforts all contribute to a more equitable industry with universally recognized safety, security, and environmental standards for ship operators.


International Monetary Fund (IMF)

The IMF’s core mission is to maintain the stability of the international monetary system and mitigate the impact of financial crises.  It does so by providing temporary financial assistance to national governments to help them cope with balance-of-payments adjustments and discourage them from resorting to competitive currency devaluations, which prolonged the Great Depression of the 1930s.

International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

The ITU was founded to promote international cooperation in the emerging telegraph industry. Since then, the ITU works to facilitate connectivity in modern telecommunications networks. Additionally, the ITU maintains technical standards that enable networks to interconnect seamlessly throughout States, while striving for connectivity in underdeveloped areas.



United Nations Educations, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

UNESCO functions to promote the fields of education, science, and culture across States. In particular, it emphasizes protecting cultural heritage, maintaining freedom of expression while also recognizing the dignity of all cultures and heritages.


United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

UNIDO’s core mission is to assist States in economic and industrial development along with the promotion of inclusive globalization and environmental sustainability. There are four strategic priorities within UNIDO which include creating shared prosperity, advancing economic competitiveness, safeguarding the environment, and strengthening knowledge and institutions. 


Universal Postal Union (UPU)

Founded in 1874, the UPU sets international mail and parcel delivery standards while providing a forum for cooperation that helps to ensure a truly universal network of up-to-date products and services.  Additionally, it promotes the usage of up-to-date postal products and services through the adoption of new technologies.

World Health Organization (WHO)

The WHO works with States to improve the health of individuals and the provision of healthcare services. The WHO functions to advocate for universal healthcare monitors public health risks coordinates responses to health emergencies and promotes health and wellbeing. Ultimately, the primary goal of the WHO is “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health”.

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

WIPO provides a policy forum for drafting and revising the treaty-based rules that recognize and works to protect industrial property and copyrighted material at the international level. It also establishes common standards and classifications to facilitate information sharing among national intellectual property offices and stakeholders, maintains searchable databases of national IP laws, and provides mechanisms for resolving IP disputes without litigation.


World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

The WMO promotes international cooperation and coordination among the national meteorological and hydrological services that monitor the weather and climate conditions produced by the interaction of the Earth’s atmosphere with the land and oceans.  In addition to establishing technical standards to enable accurate observations, the WMO also facilitates capacity development, data exchange, and technology transfers.

World Bank

The World Bank is an international financial organization that aims to reduce poverty by providing financing, policy advice, and technical assistance to developing countries.  It consists of two core institutions.  The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) provides loans to middle-income and credit-worthy poorer nations, while the International Development Agency (IDA) offers loans and grants to the world’s poorest countries.  Three affiliated institutions (the International Finance Corporation, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, and the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes) focus on strengthening the private sector in developing countries.  Together, these five institutions comprise the World Bank Group.


United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)

The UNWTO functions alongside States and private stakeholders to promote tourism as a driver of economic growth and development that is inclusive and accessible to all.  Additionally, the UNWTO works to advance and promote environmentally sustainable tourism policies and practices.

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

ICAO operates within the UN to provide States maintain the highest level of uniformity amongst civil aviation regulations, standards, procedures, and organization. All with the motivation of ensuring the safe and orderly development of international civil aviation. It fosters the planning and development of international aviation to ensure safe and orderly growth. ICAO’s core function is to maintain an administrative and expert bureaucracy, support diplomatic interactions, and research new air transport policy and standardization innovations as directed and endorsed by governments through the ICAO Assembly, or by the ICAO Council which are elected by the Assembly. Furthermore, it conducts educational outreach, develops coalitions, and conducts auditing, training, and capacity-building activities worldwide per the needs and priorities governments identify and formalize.

With the UN’s theme of sustainable development in mind, many recent efforts of ICAO have functioned to work towards sustainable development within aviation in the context of a post-COVID world. Such as implementing the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). All with the intent of promoting decarbonization amongst States and industry. 

In addition to the 15 specialized agencies that help all areas of the UN to function, there are also numerous other organizations involved which include: ICJ, Habitat, UNCTAD, UNDP, UNEP, ODCCP, the regional and social commissions, along with its environmental bodies to name a few. They work together, along with so many organizations around the world, to help the UN to function under the founding principles of human rights, equality, dignity and worth of every person, international law, and peace.