The Global Environmental Outlook says significant progress is seen on only four out of 90 environmental goals.
Meanwhile, a team of scientists warns that life on Earth may be on the way to an irreversible "tipping point".
The UN Environment Programme (Unep) urges leaders to agree tough goals at this month’s Rio+20 summit.
Where governments have agreed specific treaties, it says, major change has transpired.
However, negotiations leading up to the summit appear mired in problems, with governments failing to find agreement since January on issues such as eliminating subsidies on fossil fuels, regulating fishing on the high seas and obliging corporations to measure their environmental footprint.
"GEO-5 reminds world leaders and nations meeting at Rio+20 why a decisive and defining transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient, job-generating ‘green economy’ is urgently needed," said Achim Steiner, Unep’s executive director.
"If current trends continue, if current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed, then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation."
This is the fifth edition of the Global Environmental Outlook, Unep’s blue-chip five-yearly assessment of the natural world.
The last, published in 2007, warned that factors such as rising demand for freshwater were affecting human wellbeing.
Innovative farming methods can save on water and fertilisers while giving good yields For the current edition, researchers assessed progress in 90 important environmental issues.
They concluded that meaningful progress had been made on just four – making petrol lead-free, tackling ozone layer depletion, increasing access to clean water and boosting research on marine pollution.
A further 40 showed some progress, including the establishment of protected habitat for plants and animals on land and slowing the rate of deforestation.
Little or no progress was noted for 24, including tackling climate change, while clear deterioration was found in eight, including the parlous state of coral reefs around the world.
For the remainder, there was too little data to draw firm conclusions.