United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)


HQ: Geneva, Switzerland

Focal Point: Amare Gebre Egziabher

Key figures: Greenhouse gas emissions



The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or resettle in a third country. It also has a mandate to help stateless people.

Experience so far

UNHCR has helped to slow deforestation in Ethiopia by supplying ‘CleanCook’ stoves and ethanol to refugee families in Ethiopia. The stoves help reduce the fuel wood each family needs to collect by nearly four tonnes a year. The ethanol is produced from a by-product of the local sugar industry, whose disposal previously caused water pollution. The main difficulty is the rising price and limited availability of ethanol.

Since 2007, UNHCR has planted approximately 10 million trees worldwide in areas of human displacement. This has helped hold back desertification and deforestation, and absorb carbon emissions. A main challenge has been to ensure a high survival rate of planted trees in the face of limited precipitation. In a number of field operations in Africa and Asia, UNHCR has introduced energy-efficient stoves, solar cookers/lights and other renewable-energy technology to reduce carbon emissions. The high unit price of this equipment has been an obstacle.

Reduction efforts

On top of the efforts described in the existing website:

  •  “Genève Lac Nations” cooling system will start functioning for Geneva office at the beginning of 2011.
  • Recycle system set up at Lebanon office. The collected recycle materials are sold and help purchase wheelchairs and other equipments for the people in need.
  • Vegetarian meals and fair trade certified coffee are proposed at the cafeteria.
  • Bike to Work campaign promoted in Geneva office.
  • Introduction of Multi-Functional Devices (MFDs) that can print, photocopy and scan through one integrated device, to prevent waste of energy by the use of several different devices.
  • Garden area set up at the balcony to absorb heat and CO2.


This decision has to be taken at the highest level together with Member States.

Next steps

The plan is to extend the climate-footprint data-collection exercise and the Green Office Programme to the field offices next year (this year, this exercise has been limited to the headquarters in Geneva and the Global Service Centre in Budapest). Efforts to reduce emissions will continue as far as possible. Plans are in place within Geneva to install a district cooling system using water from Lake Geneva which will reduce the requirements for cooling via the vapour compression and ice bank system, yielding a considerable reduction in carbon emissions.

UNHCR and sustainability