History of Greening the UN

“The United Nations is on course to be climate neutral by 2020, and I am strongly committed to ensuring that the Organization continues to lead by example by pursuing efforts in all areas of environmental sustainability.”

Antonio Gutteres, September 2019 United Nations Secretary-General

The UN’s journey towards climate neutrality began on 5 June 2007 when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly called on all UN agencies, funds and programmes to ‘go green’ and become climate neutral.

At the October 2007 meeting of the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), the Executive Heads of UN agencies, funds and programmes committed to move their respective organizations towards climate neutrality. In particular, they agreed to:

  • Estimate the greenhouse gas emissions of UN system organizations consistent with accepted international standards;
  • Undertake efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Analyze the cost implications and explore budgetary modalities of purchasing carbon offsets to eventually reach climate neutrality
  • At the Rio+20 Conference in 2012, Member States requested that the UN improve management of facilities and operations, by taking into account sustainable development practices. (The Future We Want, para. 96).

A year later, the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), chaired by the Secretary-General, committed to implement Environmental Management Systems (EMS) in each organization, through a gradual, voluntary and flexible process, focusing on low-investment and high-return initiatives. In addition, they committed to mainstream EMS in programming and planning processes.

In 2015, heads of UN system organizations committed to become climate neutral by 2020 through a combination of emission reduction actions and offsetting, and to include environmental sustainability goals in the programming of facilities and operations. As of 2018, 95% of the UN System’s reported greenhouse gas emissions were offset.

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