Is it time to offset the UN’s carbon footprint?

Wed, 20/02/13

A recent article in a UK newspaper, The Independent, expresses surprise and disappointment that the UN doesn’t offset its carbon emissions.

The article, It’s time to offset the UN’s carbon footprint, notes that “the UN created the world’s most effective offset mechanism but astonishingly fails to use it for its own carbon emissions. This has to change”.

The author makes a strong case for offsetting, highlighting the many pledges and initiatives that have been undertaken by the UN. The article also endorses the UN’s Climate Change Portal, describing it as "well worth a visit".

However the main thrust of the article is on the UN’s failure to date to offset all its emissions:

Neither the United Nations nor its 38 Partners on Climate Change practice what they preach. They all talk a great game on reducing carbon emissions, and encourage the industrialized world to use carbon offsetting as one of many ways in which to reduce its carbon footprint, but none of them are actually carbon neutral themselves.

Sure, most of these organisations report on their GHG emissions (I managed to find a 2011 UN inventory), but the vast majority stop short of offsetting their emissions, citing assorted excuses including budgetary restrictions, a lack of direction from their executive group and a preference to reduce emissions first.  Furthermore, while many of the organizations are doing the minimum (implementing good practices and reducing emissions where possible), over 50 per cent of their emissions are from air travel - which unless they all stay put, can only be eliminated via offsetting

Since 2007, a concerted effort has been underway to regularly monitor and reduce the GHG  emissions from the in-house operations of over 50 UN organizations. Offsetting is the third step of such effort.

In fact a number of UN organizations have already commenced offsetting of travel and other emissions, which cannot otherwise be reduced. 

UNDP Headquarters, for example, recently achieved climate neutrality via a combination of reductions (including switching to green electricity) and procuring Gold Standard Certified Emissions Reductions to offset 6000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent for remaining travel and facilities-related greenhouse gas emissions. UNDP’s Regional Centre for Europe and the CIS, based in Bratislava, has also already achieved climate neutrality including through offsetting.

Similarly, several large UN events have been made climate neutral through the purchase of offsets.

UN wide guidance now exists requiring that offsetting is carried out only through projects registered as CDM.

At the time of writing, 51 people had commented on the Independent’s story, with 92% strongly agreeing with the headline that it is time for the UN to offset its carbon footprint.

Overall, the message is clear, the UN must work faster and harder towards carbon neutrality in order for it to set a credible example to the world.


Categories: Offsets