Greening the Blue Report 2021 - The UN system’s environmental footprint and efforts to reduce it, is the first edition to reveal impacts on the UN system’s environmental footprint due to COVID-19.
The annual Report provides UN system-wide data on the environmental impact areas and management functions identified in the Strategy for Sustainability Management in the United Nations System 2020-2030, Phase I: Environmental Sustainability in the Area of Management. The SUN team are excited to announce that the 2021 edition of the Report, which provides 2020 data, launched on Monday 8 November. The full Report and UN entity-specific data are available online at greeningtheblue.org.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres had this to say on the Report:
Facing a triple planetary emergency — a climate crisis, a nature crisis and a pollution crisis — we need urgent and determined action from everyone, everywhere. The United Nations is committed to lead by example in reducing our carbon and environmental footprint in all our operations around the globe. Together, let’s achieve a sustainable, net-zero and resilient world for all.
The Report focuses on the environmental impacts of over 315,000 personnel in Headquarters, field offices and operations on the ground. Data from 56 UN system entities is included in the Report.
The Greening the Blue Report 2021 is purely disseminated in digital form and is composed of three elements: a PDF, entity webpages and data tables. The PDF focuses on the UN system-wide data, whereas entity-specific information is provided on the Environmental Performance Dashboard Annex, data tables and on each contributing entity’s greeningtheblue.org webpage. The 2021 edition of the Report covers 2020 data.
Greenhouse gas emissions and offsetting
With significant worldwide travel restrictions and large portions of UN personnel working from home, the UN system generated approximately 25 per cent fewer GHG emissions than in 2019. The steep reduction in GHG emissions reflects the sudden and dramatic adaptations in operations that had to be made throughout 2020, as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, the UN system produced ~1.5 million tonnes CO2eq, with per capita emissions of 5 tonnes CO2eq. The UN system’s emission by source were 32% from air travel, 55% from facilities, and 12% from other forms of travel. Of the reported 2020 emissions, 99% were offset.
The Report also includes, for the first time the GHG emissions trendlines, between 2016 and 2020, for each reporting UN entity. These trendlines reveal an overall reduction in GHG emissions generation was occurring across the UN system even prior to the operational adaptations due to COVID-19.
Additional Environmental Impact Areas
The average waste generated for the whole UN system was 396 kg/person, this figure includes Peacekeeping and Special Political Missions wherein personnel live full time. If they are excluded, the average waste generated in 2020 was 184 kg/person. This is a reduction of 61 kg/person and 43 kg/person respectively from 2019.
For 2020, the average water consumption was 38 m3 per UN personnel per year. This is an 11 m3 per UN personnel reduction from 2019.
Impacts of COVID-19
In 2020, there was still a substantial amount of work that could only be delivered in-person and required physical facilities and physical technologies. The Greening the Blue Report 2021 highlights how several entities continued work to improve the environmental footprint of both their facilities and on the ground work across different environmental impact and management areas. Furthermore, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic imposed on many entities’ a radical change in work and travel patterns. However, this has also highlighted the opportunity the UN system has to revisit its working and travel modalities and come closer to the ambitious emissions reductions’ targets that it has set for itself for 2030.