It’s time to offset the UN’s carbon footprint

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

Share
Related Topics

The United Nations’ portal on Climate Change is impressive.

There is a “Secretary General” page stating that Ban Ki-moon calls climate change “the defining issue of our time”, and “has made addressing climate change among his top priorities as UN Secretary-General and an important component of his Five Year Action Agenda”.   Wonderful. 

There is “The Science” page, emphatically acknowledging that climate change is an existential issue for our planet and clearly presenting the scientific back up.  I couldn’t agree more. 

There is an uplifting “Take Action” page explaining how we can “all personally make a difference”  enticing readers to lead a low carbon life, know their carbon footprint, and plant trees.  Laudable.  

And there are 38 organizations listed as “United Nations Partners on Climate Change,” most of which are arms of the United Nations but some of which (for example the World Bank and the IMF) are not. Great.

I could go on – the website is well worth a visit. 

The problem?  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.

Let me explain. In 2005, the United Nations launched the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) as a way of allowing emission reduction projects (such as renewable energy) in developing countries to earn tradable carbon credits, called Certified Emission Reductions (CERs). Each of these CERs is equivalent to one ton of CO2 avoided through the project’s technology. These can be bought by industrialized countries to pay down what could be seen as their carbon debt: the quantity of harmful greenhouse gases they are emitting over and above their targets. Under this scheme, a factory in Germany can meet its emissions targets by funding a waste to energy project in China – allowing it time to transition to cleaner production methods without retiring operational plant, firing staff or facing bankruptcy. 

Over little more than a decade, the CDM has enabled the investment of $215 billion in clean energy projects – reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1 billion tons and delivering large sustainable development benefits to millions of people. What’s more, it has encouraged developing economies’ governments to follow the CDM’s lead and further invest in clean energy. It is by far the most successful environmental offsetting mechanism the world has ever seen, and a valuable contributor to sustainable development.

However, the system is grinding to a halt because an imbalance in supply and demand is causing the price of CERs to plummet.

This brings me back to my original point – that of the UN talking the talk, but not walking the walk. Yes, it is working hard to improve its resource efficiency and reduce its carbon footprint, but unless it ceases to exist altogether, it is not physically possible to reduce its emissions to zero. Why not, then, put its money where its mouth is and offset the remainder?

Such bold action would lend the UN a credibility based on facts and deeds, as well as help restore faith in the very mechanism the UN is promoting to assist in securing the future of clean energy investment.

Ahead of last year’s Rio+20 summit (where the UN chose to merely offset the travel of its own staff – less than 1 per cent of its total emissions), Ban Ki-moon said, “The United Nations has played a key role in elevating the profile of climate change on the international agenda, and continues to support Member States in their efforts to reduce emissions, strengthen adaptation and respond to this immense global challenge. Such work has a natural complement in our in-house drive to reduce the UN’s own carbon footprint. What we demand of others, we must do ourselves.”

Wise words indeed, Mr. Ban.  It’s time to live by them.

Please visit change.org and let Ban Ki-moon know if you agree. 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Software Engineer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Software Engineer i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Sepp Blatter and Vladimir Putin. Was Russia awarded the 2018 World Cup unfairly?  

Fifa arrests: Is it the final whistle for corruption in world football?

Mary Dejevsky
Alternative futures build into a chronicle of chance  

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2015: Winner Jenny Erpenbeck’s historical novel grips and dazzles

Boyd Tonkin
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

Hanging with the Hoff

Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

Hipsters of Arabia

Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

The cult of Roger Federer

What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?