The report reveals the UN’s 2010 emissions for 54 entities in hundreds of locations and over 200,000 employees. and shows that the UN’s total greenhouse gas emissions were 1.8 million tonnes of CO₂ equivalent.
This is the same amount of carbon sequestered annually by 383,795 acres of pine or fir forests, an area the size of the Faroe Islands.
According to the report, over 50 percent of the UN’s greenhouse gas emissions are from air travel (4.2 tonnes per capita), making this the biggest challenge for the organisation in reducing its overall emissions.
Launching the report on the occasion of Earth Day 2012, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, said: “The United Nations system is strongly committed to leading by example and ensuring that our operations are continuously monitored and improved – not just in terms of what we deliver, but also how we deliver. We are also looking to this year’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development — Rio+20 — to generate ideas that will energize sustainability efforts worldwide.”
Also in his foreword to the report, the Secretary-General highlights the efforts which are on-going across the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from UN operations and emphasises the special importance of renewing efforts in 2012.
The report details a wide range of actions that have been taken across the UN system to improve resource efficiency and cut the organisation’s emissions, which includes encouraging train journeys over air travel, providing bicycles for staff members, installing efficient lighting systems in UN offices or using e-conferencing instead of travelling to meetings.
The report further provides a progress update on implementation of UN’s Climate Neutral Strategy, which was approved by the UN Chief Executive Board in 2007. A press release detailing this says the strategy commits all agencies, funds and programmes to move towards climate neutrality within the wider context of greening the UN, and requires all UN bodies to estimate their greenhouse gas emissions, undertake efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and analyse the cost implications of purchasing carbon offsets.
It was as part of these efforts, that the Greening the Blue initiative was launched in 2010 to raise awareness of the importance of sustainability throughout the UN system and to encourage staff members to take an active role in reducing the organisation’s carbon emissions.
The emissions calculations used in the latest report have been compiled using internationally recognised guidance based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, a widely used methodology developed by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
According to the press release, the UN greenhouse gas inventory includes emissions from all activities that are under the direct financial control of the organisation, such as the heating and cooling of buildings and the travel of staff members.
How the Blue was Greened
As well as reporting the UN’s greenhouse gas emissions for 2010, the report highlights recent greening efforts and details the myriad ways in which UN organisations and staff continued efforts to reduce their carbon emissions in 2011.
These include the following:
· Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the New Office Facility in Nairobi, which houses the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and UN-HABITAT and is among the most energy-efficient buildings in sub-Saharan Africa. Features include 6,000 square metres of solar panels, energy saving lighting and natural ventilation systems. The new offices are “energy neutral”, which means they generate as much power (via renewable sources) as they consume over a year.
· Senior officials of the inter-agency Environment Management Group approved a Strategic Plan for Sustainability Management in the UN System, to move UN organizations towards a consistent, systematic and cost-effective approach to managing sustainability. They also acknowledged the importance of a common structure to support implementation of the plan.
· UN.org – the main website for the UN system – launched a new page on sustainability.
· The number of Green Champions and Green Groups across the UN doubled in 2011, with over 100 volunteers from across the UN working to make their offices more sustainable.
· UN offices in New York, Geneva and Nairobi joined millions of people across the world to mark Earth Hour at 8pm on 26 March 2011 by switching off their lights to raise awareness of energy efficiency.
Towards a zero carbon future
Though the UN has come a long way, the report acknowledges that much still remains to be done.
Writing in the report’s preface, Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner states that “The process of moving the UN towards climate neutrality gives us direct experience of the complexities associated with preparing a large international organisation for a green economy. But we recognise that this work is vital for delivering sustainable development, and has the potential to realise the best of human ingenuity and creativity”.
He adds that “By championing a climate neutral UN the various organisations, agencies, programmes and funds are becoming part of a global community developing innovative solutions and sharing lessons learnt on the challenges and opportunities at hand.”
The report concludes that the UN must establish itself as a pioneer in working towards establishing a green economy and doing all it can to move the world towards sustainable energy.
The UN Climate Neutral Strategy was approved by the UN Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) in October 2007, while the first UN greenhouse gas inventory, Moving Towards a Climate Neutral UN, was published in December 2009.
By Edmund Smith-Asante