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

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: A huge step forward in medical science, but we're not all the way there yet

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album