Down to earth

Travel is an essential part of the jobs of many UN staff, yet it is a main GHG emission sources. In fact, in 2016 it was responsible for 54% of the UN’s greenhouse gas emissions - 42% from air travel and 12% from other forms of travel (e.g. UN-owned vehicles, commuting, etc.).

The challenge facing all UN staff and organization is how to reduce our travel-related carbon-footprint without reducing the effectiveness of our work.

There are a number of ways to do this including:

  • Arranging meetings in locations requiring minimum travel by delegates
  • Ensuring no more than two staff from one organization travel to the same meeting
  • Using local staff rather than travelling yourself
  • Planning  trips carefully so as to reduce the number of flights required
  • Where possible, taking the train instead of the plane
  • When travelling by car, providing lifts to colleagues, to reduce the number of vehicles going from A to B

It’s not just about cutting carbon emissions: a more sustainable approach to travel planning also helps to cut costs and reduce stress for staff.

A number of UN organizations have already introduced policies to help reduce the costs and carbon associated with travel. You can see some examples on the case studies page.

We’re keen to hear how you have cut your travel-related carbon emissions. Please feel free to share your tips below. Or to suggest measures the UN could introduce to make our transport more efficient.

Less is More     Switch it Off    Bon Appetit     Green Champions

Did You Know?

  • Travel is responsible for approximately 54% of the 2016 UN’s climate footprint.
  • Since 1970, CO2 emissions have increased by about 90%, with emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes contributing about 78% of the total greenhouse gas emissions increase from 1970 to 2011. Agriculture, deforestation, and other land-use changes have been the second-largest contributors. (Source: IPCC (2014). Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Exit Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
  • The emissions from a return business-class trip between New York and Beijing are equivalent to 3,0 tonnes of CO2, which is 54% of the average persons emissions per year (Sustainable Travel in the UN, 2010)
  • If just 1 million people replaced an 8km car trip with a bike ride once a week, CO2 emissions would be reduced by nearly 100 000 tonnes a year (Green Passport, 2010)

Additional Materials




Sustainable Travel in the UN (2010) provides guidance on what UN organizations can do to improve the sustainability of their travel. Travel is responsible for approximately 50% of the United Nations’ climate footprint and represents a major cost to UN - over 1 US$ billion per year for the collective UN family. At the same time, travel is an essential means by which the UN delivers its mandate, and often cannot be avoided.

ICAO Planetary Priorities (2009) is a journal containing articles and insights discussing the addressal of emissions from international aviation.

Towards a Low Carbon Travel & Tourism Sector (2009) examines the ways in which the Travel & ToTourism sector could reduce its impact on climate change. Current findings indicate that the Travel &  Tourism sector's contribution to GHG is at 5% (global anthropogenic emissions).

Green Passport is a great website aimed at all of us travellers, who want top tips on how to make tourism a sustainable and enjoyable activity.

The Sustainable Tourism Programme of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns catalyzes changes in tourism operations. It promotes transformation for sustainability through efficiency, innovation and adaptability.