Poll shows support for UN purchase of carbon offsets

Wed, 04/08/10

An informal poll on the UN’s new Greening the Blue website shows that a majority of visitors to the site are in favor of the UN purchasing offsets.

59% of respondents replied ‘Yes’ to the question “Should the UN purchase carbon offsets?”, whilst 41% of respondents said ‘No’.

The poll reflects the wider debate about the value of offsets in seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Those in favor of offsets argue that they help to quantify an economic externality by ensuring that the environmental costs of such emissions are included in an organization’s expenditure – thereby creating an incentive to cut emissions. Those against say they are a distraction from the real issue, which is to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

There is, however, consensus that offsets should only ever be used as a last resort, after efforts to reduce emissions have been introduced. This position was supported by most of the comments made on the website. 

“Every credible source - even some of the companies that sell offsets for a living - says offsetting should be a last resort. Saving energy will nearly always be more cost effective than paying someone else to clean up your mess”, said one visitor.

Another supported this view: “Turning an ecological problem into a business opportunity is great for the investors and polluters who stand to benefit, but will not solve anything. It's no substitute for actually reducing emissions. The UN is in a unique position to use its status as a global body to help stop this dangerous, unjust, and deluded practice.”

The Issue Management Group on Sustainability Management – the UN body that supports the implementation of the UN Climate Neutral Strategy - has set up a Working Group to look specifically at the role of offsets in the UN system and make recommendations to the main group. The coordinator of the Working Group, Lova Andre’, says the issue is further complicated by the role and mandate of the UN:
“Climate change is the challenge of our time, and we at the UN should practice what we preach and make all possible efforts to reduce our emissions. If we want to achieve climate neutrality we need to compensate for any remaining emissions through the purchase of carbon credits. There is, however, an argument that funds provided by governments to the UN should be spent on our key mandates only, and that the UN should not become a buyer of carbon credits. This is the crux of the debate”.
The Working Group has been looking into alternatives to offsets, including setting up a dedicated fund for green investments, which could be used to accelerate the UN’s transition to a low-carbon organization.
“This is something we’ve discussed - earmarking funds from donors who support the idea of buying carbon credits” says Andre’.

There is also potential for improving the efficiency of procuring offsets: “We have discussed the possibility of buying the credits for the entire UN system though one coordinated body. At the moment, each UN organization that wants to be carbon neutral has to raise their own funds and procure credits individually which leads to a duplication of effort”, she explained.

The Working Group will has also been looking at staged approaches to offsetting, whereby organizations can choose to offset emissions from one area, such as their headquarters or from travel rather than committing to offset emissions from their entire operation.

As a summary recommendation, the Working Group is proposing that all UN organizations implement the climate neutral vision of the Secretary General by reducing emissions and offsetting all remaining emissions.

Six UN organizations have already declared themselves climate (or carbon) neutral. These are the GEF Secretariat, SBC, SCBD, UNEP, UN-HABITAT and the World Bank Group.

Categories: Offsets